Racism in Teaching

“It could be that active learning breaks a cultural barrier. Student surveys showed that in a traditional lecture hall, Black students ‘were very uncomfortable speaking up in class. And, under this reformed course, they were two times more likely to speak up in class,’ said Eddy [Dr. Sarah Eddy, University of Washington biology postdoctoral fellow]. Part of the problem, Eddy argued, is that universities teach based on the culture of the populations they’ve historically served. ‘And those populations tended to be white and upper middle class,’ she said. This teaching style does not translate across cultures, according to Eddy, ‘since different populations bring different values sets into the classroom,’ as this study reports.” – Ainissa Ramirez on Edutopia

Racism is not an interpersonal phenomenon. It is not simply about something one person said to another; it is more than a slur about skin colour. Racism operates through institutions and policies, that are reinforced in everyday words and actions. Racism is not comprehending that things you say and do – as well as the things you fail to say and do – contribute to the alienation of people of colour. Well-meaning White people contribute towards racism – through their silence. Whether intentional or not, racism has material consequences on the life chances of racial minorities. 

Racism is thinking that having one person of colour in your classroom amounts to “diversity.”

Racism is using that one unnamed, magical student of colour you “mentor” (whom nobody ever seems to see in your office) as a defence to vouch for your diversity credentials.

Racism is never stopping to notice that your curriculum, the textbooks you ask students to discuss in research and exam papers, and your presentations are filled with the work of White scholars. And no: that one video clip you use of [insert pop culture reference to a person of colour] does not count as “diversity” in your teaching. Racism is not recognising the lifetime of racism students have suffered before they walk into your classroom, and then contributing to their silencing and exclusion because you’re unaware of your biases.

Racism is expecting people of colour (usually postgraduates and early career staff) to look after the needs of other minority students but never giving them resources, support or credit for this unpaid work.

Racism is using resources that should be directed to increase diversity of research students and junior staff into areas where people of colour will never enter. Usually this plays out by redirecting all efforts and funding into programs that primarily benefit White women from majority groups.

Racism is using the work of students of colour to boost your career but never giving them public credit, and yet privately undermining their progress.

Racism is thinking that there’s a “nice” way for students to approach you about racism. Racism is punishing students for pointing out your racism.

Read more from me on ‘Racism in Research and Academia.’

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