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Engaging in Antiracist Pedagogy
The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning offers this webpage as a resource for instructors who want to learn about antiracist teaching practice and as a place to make ongoing Yale faculty antiracist efforts more visible, including an upcoming Faculty in Conversation series. At the Poorvu Center, we do not position ourselves as experts on antiracism; instead, we strive to learn and grow in our understanding of antiracist teaching in community and conversation with Yale instructors and experts in the field. We welcome suggestions for additional resources or future programming.
Because racism is structural, institutional, and systemic, being an antiracist is an active process of identifying and opposing racism in order to actively change the policies, behaviors, and beliefs that perpetuate racist ideas and actions (Kendi 2019). Experts tell us that at the classroom level, being an antiracist begins with examining one’s own pedagogy and curriculum in order to implement change. This process has the potential to expand to disciplinary, university, and community efforts, as Kyoto Kishimoto shares in her article, “Anti-racist Pedagogy: from Faculty’s Self-reflection to Organizing within and beyond the Classroom” (2018):
Yet, Anti-racist pedagogy is not about simply incorporating racial content into courses, curriculum, and discipline. It is also about how one teaches, even in courses where race is not the subject matter. It begins with the faculty’s awareness and self-reflection of their social position and leads to the application of this analysis not just in their teaching, but also in their discipline, research, and departmental, university, and community work. In other words, anti-racist pedagogy is an organizing effort for institutional and social change that is much broader than teaching in the classroom (Rodriguez and Drew 2009- 2014 and Phillips 2013).
Becoming an antiracist educator differs for each of us based on our power and privilege: the journey for White instructors is different than the one for instructors of color (Singh 2019). To be antiracist is to recognize the unearned power and privilege of some in our culture and to work to redistribute that power more equitably. This means going beyond inclusive teaching strategies to reconsider which voices are heard, who counts as an authority, and what kind of discourse is valued in the classroom. Inclusion is crucially important to teaching well, but antiracist educators also critically examine what they are inviting students to join. Just as faculty start in different places with regard to antiracist pedagogy, so do students. Some students are relatively unaware of power imbalances and microaggressions in the classroom while others are all too aware (and exhausted by) their personal experience of these forces.
There are many paths to implementing or strengthening antiracist pedagogy, including personal reflection about one's own subject position, relative level of power and privilege, and potential biases. While everyone’s process towards antiracist pedagogy varies, consideration of theoretical and evidence-based practices as well as hearing from colleagues are productive complements to self-reflection.
How do I acknowledge inequities within my discipline and decenter Whiteness in course content?
Yale Associate Professor of Computer Science, Theodore Kim, includes discussions about the discriminatory racial history of computer science and mathematics as a way to help students understand the politics and power of fields that are often thought of as being objective.
- Deanna Blackwell shares how scholar-practitioners can decenter Whiteness and understand what counts as anti-racist education for students of color in “Sidelines and Separate Spaces: Making Education Anti-Racist for Students of Color” (2010).
- David Asai explains why it is time to change the culture of science by putting inclusive diversity at the center in Commentary: Race Matters. Cell 181, May 14, 2020.
Potential classroom practices:
- Reflect on the diversity of author representation and theoretical frameworks integrated into the course content.
- Consider ways to integrate perspectives that have been traditionally marginalized without tokenizing or simply contextualizing dominant sources.
How do I communicate antiracist principles in my course policies and learning goals?
For Roderick Ferguson, Professor of Womens, Gender and Sexuality Studies and American Studies at Yale, anti-racist pedagogy begins with the syllabus as a document that signals his principles and values as a teacher. Through the syllabus, he suggests to students that race is not a matter of irrationality. He can also show them that law, science, the social sciences, and the humanities have been intimately involved in the production of racial and racist knowledge. The syllabus is also a means of showing how race is produced in its intersections with the languages of class, gender, sexuality, ability and so on. Lastly, through the syllabus, he can also propose other forms of knowledge and community are possible—besides the ones that racism needs in order to function and grow.
Yale Graduate Program Coordinator in Physics, Rona Ramos, includes a DEI statement on her syllabus to reject discrimination and promote belonging.
- Sherria D. Taylor provides a framework for instructors to analyze their syllabus through an anti-racist lens in “The Social Justice Syllabus Design Tool: A First Step in Doing Social Justice Pedagogy” (2019).
Potential classroom practices:
- Consider inviting colleagues to read your syllabus and provide any feedback on policies that may make implicit assumptions about students.
- You might add an anti-racist statement to your syllabus that is authentic to your voice and discuss its implications for your course with your students.
- Inquire if your department can host conversations to think critically about incorporating antiracist practices in core and foundational course work.
How do I teach with humility, acknowledging my own biases and challenging my students to encounter their own?
Yale Associate Professor of American Studies, Greta LaFleur, conducts role plays in class where students practice how to engage in meaningful conversation when a class member says something offensive. Greta further invites students to make community decisions regarding use of language in class with challenging subject matter.
- Helen Fox in her book When Race Breaks Out: Conversations about Race and Racism in the Classroom combines memoir, advice, teaching ideas, and storytelling from college classrooms to help instructors answer student questions and prepare for their reactions to the material. With an extended annotated bibliography, this text is a helpful starting point to enacting antiracist pedagogies in the classroom.
Potential classroom practices:
- Consider pausing to reflect and consider if there have been times when you could have been more intentionally or explicitly antiracist while leading a discussion or class session. To build on this reflection, try regularly gathering feedback from your students to understand their experiences and perspectives.
- Try providing opportunities for students to reflect on their own biases, such as through individual written reflection or small group discussion.
- If you’re comfortable doing so, share your own journey with your students as a learner who makes mistakes but continually strives to do better.
How do I elevate student voice so that a full range of ideas, approaches, and perspectives are valued and recognized?
Matthew Jacobson, William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies & History and Professor of African American Studies at Yale, builds trust and empathy by inviting students to participate in brief, intensive writing exercises during class when racially fraught moments occur: students first describe what happened observationally and then take one position/side before taking the other side. This exercise helps him and his students examine perspectives they may not have considered as well as interrogate their own positionality, power, and privilege.
- In their article “Teaching Race, Racism, Racial Justice: Pedagogical Principles and Classroom Strategies for Course Instructors” (2019), Brielle Harbin, Amie Thurber, and Joe Bandy share a two-part approach for teaching content involving racial in/justice: intentional course design and effective in-class facilitation and engagement. The latter approach explicitly offers support in antiracist forms of facilitation and student engagement.
Potential classroom practices:
- Consider providing opportunities for all students to contribute through written, collaborative platforms, such as discussion boards, Google documents, and annotations in Perusall.
- Try incorporating frequent questions of your students as a means of decentering your own power and authority as the instructor.
- It can be helpful to track student speaking patterns during class to analyze whose voices are heard and what positionality and privilege this reflects. Consider inviting a colleague or Poorvu Center staff member to observe student speaking patterns for you or, if online, turn on Zoom closed captioning and review the audio transcript after the class session.
How do I create assessments that enable students to demonstrate different knowledge and ways of knowing?
Yale Associate Professor of Ethnicity, Race & Migration and American Studies, Daniel Martinez Hosang, assigns his students to design, curate, and launch a website in a course that centers on promoting antiracist teaching and learning in K-12 schools throughout Connecticut. The website build is part of the course goals; it serves not only as an assessment of the students’ work but also a compelling resource for K-12 teachers and school leaders.
Lisa Lowe, Samuel Knight Professor of American Studies, understands that while equal achievement is an ideal presumed by normative standards of grading, the reality of students’ preparations, backgrounds, learning styles, and material circumstances can vary enormously. To that end, she approaches grading and evaluation as a qualitative process, and prioritizes a consideration of what students have learned during the semester, that is, she seeks to assess their “movement” from where they began the course to where they end the course, in terms of their demonstrated understanding of key concepts, analytics, and course material, as well as their completion of assignments, papers, and final projects.
- In his book Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies (2015), Asao B. Inoue helps instructors understand the unintended racism that may occur when instructors do not have explicit antiracist agendas in their assessments.
Potential classroom practices:
- It can be helpful to revisit course learning goals and consider if your course assessments provide evidence that students are meeting those goals.
- Consider if there are multiple ways that students may be able to demonstrate their acquired knowledge. For instance, a creative project might demonstrate learning as effectively as a final exam, but draw more readily on diverse student perspectives and experiences.
Faculty in Conversation Series
Join the Poorvu Center for a series of conversations featuring Yale faculty who will discuss some of the ways that they have incorporated antiracist pedagogy into their classroom practice, course design, and discipline overall.
Dates and Times Forthcoming
This curated reading list from the Poorvu Center offers suggested readings and other digital resources to support incorporating antiracist teaching into the higher education classroom.
Other Centers of Teaching and Learning have helpful and extensive resources on being an antiracist educator. We are grateful to them for informing Pooruv’s resources:
- Brown University’s The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning: Effective Teaching Is Antiracist Teaching
- Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning: Anti-Racist Pedagogy in Action: First Steps
- Emory University: Teaching about Racism
- University of Southern California Library System’s Antiracist Pedagogy Guide
- Vanderbilt University’s Teaching Race: Pedagogy and Practice
- Wheaton College Massachusetts: Becoming an Anti-Racist Educator
Kendi, Ibram X., How to Be an Antiracist. New York: One World, 2019.
Kyoko Kishimoto (2018) Anti-racist pedagogy: from faculty’s self-reflection to organizing within and beyond the classroom, Race Ethnicity and Education, 21:4, 540-554, DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2016.1248824
Singh, Anneliese A., The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 2019.