By Erin Rentschler, Program Manager at the Center for Teaching Excellence; English PhD Candidate, Duquesne University
On Tuesday, March 15, the Center for Teaching Excellence collaborated with the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) to present a student panel at the second annual Exploring Race and Pedagogy workshop. Given the power students’ voices have had on college campuses around the nation this academic year, it seemed time to hear the students’ perspectives here at Duquesne. This was especially true since the session was held in conjunction with the Duquesne Day for Learning and Speaking Out.
Six undergraduate students, Don Crawford (Sophomore, Political Science), Essence Criswell (Freshman, International Relations), Sharifa Garvey (Senior, Information Systems Management), Abdul Junaid (Freshman, Undeclared Arts), Shawn Ramsay (Junior, Psychology), Ariana Sampson (Senior, Psychology), shared their experiences with conversations about race and racism in the classroom and offered advice to faculty seeking to engage their classes in these conversations. The panel responded to faculty questions regarding
- mistakes that well-meaning faculty make in discussing race,
- the panelists’ personal decisions to attend a predominantly white institution,
- the use of trigger warnings and whether they help or hinder sensitive conversations, and
- strategies that we can adopt to bridge the gaps between minoritized student populations and white students and faculty.
Their responses crystallized for me what is powerful and difficult about flipping the script and giving students the floor. The students’ honesty may have been hard for some of us to hear; certainly some of us have made the very mistakes that the students called out. But these students were gracious and understanding. More importantly, they provided insight and incredibly useful feedback. I was moved by their contributions and impressed by their courage and poise.
I encourage you to listen to your students. As Jeff Mallory (Director, OMA) indicated in his introduction of the student panel, they are eager for our time and attention, they want to get to know the faculty, and they want to share stories. In the coming weeks I hope to be able to post some of the panelists’ advice in their own words; their voices are far more powerful than mine could be. In the meantime, I offer here only the advice with which Dr. Darius Prier (Faculty, School of Education) began our session on Tuesday, “Let’s get comfortable being uncomfortable talking about race in the classroom.”