Conference aims to help faculty deal with racism, issues of diversity in the classroom
Conference aims to help faculty deal with racism, issues of diversity in the classroomOctober 28, 2002Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
At first, it seems like innocent conversation. A professor, in discussing a book that speaks of the experience of African Americans, turns to the only African American student in the room and says, “What do you think about that?”
In another situation, a student makes a racist remark in class. Other students snicker. One student says, “If he stays, I’m leaving.” The professor tries to move on, but isn’t clear about how to respond to the remark now hanging in the air. ”
This doesn’t happen at SU alone; similar situations arise in classrooms at college and universities around the nation. Here at SU, professors Mara Sapon-Shevin, professor of teaching and leadership in the School of Education, and Carrie Smith, associate professor of social work in the College of Human Services and Health Professions, have organized a conference for faculty members and teaching assistants to help them identify and deal with racism and other issues of diversity in the classroom.
“Teaching Against Racism: Pedagogy, Curriculum and Campus Climate” will be held Nov. 15 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Drumlins Country Club, located on Nottingham Road. The free conference is open to all faculty members and teaching assistants, and includes lunch. Persons planning to attend can register by calling Connie Rinkevage at 443-2684 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations are required by Nov. 8.
The conference has been planned by an interdisciplinary faculty committee and is being funded by the Office of Academic Affairs, the Division of Student Affairs, several schools and colleges, and a 2002 Vision Fund grant received by Sapon-Shevin and Smith. The 2002 Vision Fund cycle was designed to support the fourth initiative of the University’s Academic Plan, to enhance the intellectual climate through diversity.
The conference will feature discussion groups, case studies and workshops focused on three distinct areas:
- Pedagogy-How teaching approaches can be expanded to address student difference;
- Curriculum-What can be done when traditional curricula excludes some students and their experiences; and
- Campus Climate-How e active student participation in class and in out-of-class activities across identity groups can be promoted.
The keynote address will be given by Suzanne SooHoo, professor of education in the Paulo Friere Democratic Project at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and coordinator of the Invisible College on Social Justice Teaching. SooHoo will speak on “I Never Think of You as Asian: Challenging Racial Invisibility in Higher Education.
SooHoo has a long history of anti-oppression work, and, as a professor of Chinese American descent, brings a personal understanding to the issue of racism, Sapon-Shevin says.
Within the area of curriculum, conference participants will discuss how the curriculum can be made more inclusive. Within the area of pedagogy, participants will discuss ways to teach for maximum involvement by the students, and ways to make students who may feel marginalized feel included.
The issue of the campus climate will also be thoroughly discussed. This area is one that organizers expect will garner much interest due to the tensions that were felt on the SU campus last spring due to a cartoon published in The Daily Orange that was labeled as racist and an incident in which a student attended a fraternity party in blackface.
“The biggest question that I have is, how did that student finish four years at an institution committed to diversity and believe that was something that was okay to do,” Sapon-Shevin says. “He had an education committed to diversity, and that should have been reflected in his behavior.”
Sapon-Shevin emphasizes that this conference is only a first step in addressing the issue of teaching against racism.
“This is not a be-all or and end-all,” she says. “I hope there will be a continuing set of activities to help faculty become more skillful.”
“We hope that what we are beginning is a campus transformation,” says Smith. “There is a place for content on diversity in every course taught at SU and at campuses across our nation, and even in our world.”
“I believe that teaching against racism and oppression is among the most important work on the planet,” Smith continues. “We each have a responsibility to contribute to that work, and I am proud of SU’s stated commitment to this work as evidenced by the University’s Academic Plan, and by the sponsoring of this conference.”