Black Lives Matter

In light of the recent protests and statements in support of Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist organizing efforts, the College of Liberal Arts is highlighting how its courses incorporate issues related to Black Lives Matter. See the descriptions below detailing how CLA faculty advance the anti-racist messaging of Black Lives Matter through assignments, readings, and pedagogical practices that affirm the lives, history, and culture of Black people across the globe. Descriptions fall into one of three categories—Long-Standing Practices, Recent Changes, and Future Plans—designed to demonstrate the ongoing nature of anti-racist efforts:

Long-Standing Practices

Instructor: Dr. Courtney Ahrens
Course: PSY 471: Interpersonal Violence

PSY 471: Interpersonal Violence examines causes, outcomes, and best practices for preventing and addressing five forms of interpersonal violence: child abuse, youth violence, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and elder abuse. Across all forms of violence, inequities in income, wealth, education, employment, health, community stability, and safety serve as prominent risk factors, but these conditions are often ignored in favor of individualistic approaches to intervention. Punitive criminal justice system responses and supportive healthcare and social service interventions have also been unequally applied, further entrenching the very inequalities that give rise to family and community violence.

To help move students away from a purely individualistic view of interpersonal violence, this class examines risk and protective factors at each level of the ecological model (individual, family, organizational, community, and societal), focusing on the role that social policies play in creating and sustaining the root causes of violence. Several class sessions are also devoted to examining systemic racism, including an examination of social policies and practices that lead to inequality across nearly every domain of individual, family, and community health. To enhance student learning, students watch the documentary video the 13th about systemic inequality within the criminal justice system. We also focus explicitly on actions students can take to become anti-racist, including viewing two shorter Ted Talks about overcoming implicit bias (Verna Myers) and becoming anti-racist (Ibram X. Kendi) as well as reading a multipage handout derived from the Racial Healing Handbook by Anneliese Singh.

Instructor:  Linda Alexander
Course:  PSY 354 – Psychology of Women

PSY 354:  The Psychology of Women examines women’s lives, experiences, and roles throughout the lifespan through the lens of feminist-, community-, and social- psychological research and theories. Socio-cultural, economic, regional, and ethnic diversity is emphasized throughout the course as we examine how androcentric and patriarchal attitudes impacts gender roles, body image, pregnancy, sexuality, power dynamics, communication, relationships, motherhood and the childfree, reproductive rights, work, physical and mental health, interpersonal violence, and more.  

It is vital to me to present this course through a global multi-cultural lens, both to enhance student learning and to help them better understand the intersection of sexism and racism.  From the selected textbook, to assigned articles, videos, and class discussion, the course is designed to integrate all women’s lives and experiences, including those of African American women, Africanas, as well as the Americas, indigenous women, as well as all women of color. Through an exploration of stereotypes of Black women and how this multi-layer marginalization of race and gender increases barriers for them to research on the resilience of black girls and women, this course aims to enhance understanding and assist students to take personal and social action to make change. Examples of this include a talk by Loretta Ross sharing a birthing moment of the term ‘women of color’, a video on the intersectionality of skin color on objectification, sexism, racism, and life for women of color, a talk by Adia Gooden from the University of Chicago on Unconditional Self-Worth, as well as exploring racial bias in education, the gender pay gap, and disparities in physical and mental health services. 

Instructor: Dr. Lori Baralt
Course: WGSS 375: Reproductive Justice

In WGSS 375: Reproductive Justice, I have always centered and amplified the voices, activism, and scholarship of Black women, as founders and leaders of the reproductive justice movement. The reproductive justice movement and framework was developed in 1994 by a group of 12 Black women who combined the concept of reproductive rights and social justice to address the intersectional experiences of Black women’s reproductive lives. They were not only concerned with access to birth control and abortion, which was the primary focus of white women’s reproductive rights’ activism. They developed the reproductive justice framework asserting that everyone has “the right to have children, not have children, and parent the children they have.” This reproductive justice movement and framework intersects with other social justice movements, including, but not limited to Black Lives Matter, environmental justice, housing justice, prison abolition, and immigrant justice.

In this course, students learn about U.S. history from a reproductive justice framework, scrutinizing the reproductive laws, policies and practices that were meant to cement the U.S. as a white supremacist country from the Native genocide and slavery through the present. We then center the work of Loretta Ross and other BIPOC who are leading the current reproductive justice movement as well as specific reproductive justice organizations in California. Many students connect with these organizations and get involved in the movement directly during or after this course. Throughout the course, in addition to individual assignments, students work in groups on a reproductive justice topic of their choosing that is presented outside on campus (pre-COVID and hopefully again post-COVID) to share reproductive justice knowledge, activism, and resources with the campus community.

Instructor: Emily Berquist Soule
Course: HIST 460: Slavery in Latin America

This course ties the history of slavery and the slave trade in Latin America (ca. 1500-1900) into the broader history of structural oppression and racism in the Western world, linking the beginnings of racialized discourses of discrimination to contemporary phenomena, like the prison-industrial complex in the U.S. and its overwhelming focus on preying on people of color. Students study not only how slavery was justified, operated, and sustained, but also how slaves and free people of color fought against it, both ideologically and with violence.

Instructor: Violet Gregory
Course: English 100B

I have always used readings that focus on the ways students of color move through the University, but this year I am working to better use my classroom as an ally to my community.

English 100B is a composition course, yet it also provides a space where all students can engage with texts, speeches, and other forms of art about people of color, by people of color. We investigate Malcom X’s journey to literacy, the rhetoric of Dr Martin Luther King’s speeches, and other works from the Black, Indigenous, and POC community.

Now, the connections between media, text, literature, and social justice are becoming more widely acknowledged. This interrelation between media and political change necessitates an understanding of intersectional identity. I work with my students to develop this nuanced view of race and identity in the U.S. while also improving their communication, and critical thinking skills.

During the scholar’s strike of Spring 2020 my students and I took the day to watch Baratunde Thurston’s 2009 TED talk “How to Deconstruct racism, one headline at a time.” Not only did this allow us to see and engage in complex conversations about race, racism, and the media; it also helped us create an understanding of systems of power embedded in language.

Thurston’s talk focuses on police brutality and the systematic disenfranchisement of the Black and POC communities at large. His research diagramed news headlines to parse the stories, and challenges us to look closely and power in these headlines in order to “change the action, which changes the story, which changes the system that allows those stories to happen.”

We then used Thurston’s still-growing database at baratunde.com/livingwhileblack to find local headlines that demonstrate this power struggle. The class investigated the rhetoric within those new stories to see who had power/authority/agency, and who was being silenced/misrepresented in the media coverage.

Uncovering these “unseen” structures of power in language then led to a larger intersectional research project that explored the University system where students explored how issues or race, class, culture, language, tradition, and identity make each student’s experience unique on our campus.

Instructor: Dr. Kevin Johnson
Course: COMM 441: Freedom of Communication

This course studies the First Amendment generally, and also has a long tradition of covering historical and contemporary issues of (anti-)racism in the United States. For example, the course covers many cases that explicitly discuss the relationship between free speech and (anti-)racist speech in the United States. Cases include Virginia v. Black (cross burning), NAACP v. Alabama (whether NAACP must disclose its membership list), Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (concerning a white supremacist rally on MLK’s birthday), Brandenberg v. Ohio (concerning KKK members brandishing weapons accompanying racist speech), Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (concerning religious hostility, but also the upholding of race based anti-discrimination laws), Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (concerning Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, but also upholding  the compelling government interest to prohibit racial discrimination), Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (concerning membership requirements for student organizations, but also whether anti-discrimination policies may be constitutionally interpreted as an “accept all comers” policy or make permissible membership restrictions based on status/conduct distinctions including race), Elonis v. United States (involving threatening speech, but also whether an “intent to threaten”  standard is constitutionally permissible for racist hate speech), and more. Students are assigned to engage in oral arguments about these cases, and are required to study the range of constitutional interpretations necessary to negotiate the relationship between law and anti-racist policymaking. We also unpack a complex episode of black lives in the judiciary, including issues of race and sex that were manifest in replacing America’s first African American Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall with Justice Clarence Thomas; including Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations that Justice Thomas “spoke about such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes” and graphically describing “his own sexual prowess” and the details of his anatomy, and Justice Thomas’ defense that the entire episode was a “high-tech lynching for uppity-blacks…unless you kow-tow to an old order, this is what will happen to you, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree.”

Instructor: Dr. Crystal Yin Lie
Course: CWL 315: Literature & Medicine

My CWL 315: Literature & Medicine course thinks critically about the body and health along axes of identity categories like race, gender, sexuality, class, and nationality. As such, I’ve been committed to highlighting the voices of Black authors and the experiences of Black communities.

Beginning the course, students read Mary Louise Pratt’s “Airways” to examine the rhetoric of the “twin pandemics”: COVID-19 and systemic racism. Our discussion of contemporary state violence, morality, and the pandemic are augmented by reading Albert Camus’ critique of capital punishment in The Plague. The following week, students read Audre Lorde, renown Black feminist, lesbian, poet, and civil rights activist. Lorde’s The Cancer Journals enables students to reflect on intersectional identities, the representational ethics around illness, and the reclaiming power of personal narrative.

Our mid-semester conversation pivots on biopower, race, and medical science, drawing from a range of works from Black scholars including Harriet A. Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Bettina Judd’s Patient. poems, and bell hooks’s reflections on the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks. Interrogating the history of violence toward Black bodies in medicine continues in our reading of Victor LaValle’s graphic novel, Destroyer—which tackles police violence, racial and gender inequality in STEM fields, and bioethics in a reimagining of Frankenstein. LaValle also offers an entry way into discussing the possibilities of Afro-/ethno-gothic horror and Afrofuturism.

Dovetailing on creative explorations of inclusive futures, we conclude with a unit on disability poetry and culture. This week includes the work of Leroy Moore, Krip-Hop Nation founder and co-founder of Sins Invalid, a disability justice performance project that centers BIPOC and LGBTQ/gender-variant artists.

Addressing BLM in the context of literature and medicine aims to facilitate anti-racist reflection and actions in students, many of whom desire careers in healthcare-related fields. Reading about Black lives, students not only augment their understanding of health inequities and legacies of racism in modern medicine, but also gain a broader understanding of power dynamics across different embodiments. As such, these conversations add to our other explorations of topics such as colonial violence, ableism, biopiracy, and environmental racism.

Instructor: Dr. Crystal Yin Lie
Course: CWL 213: Comics & Graphic Novels (renamed Comics & Graphic Narratives beginning Fall 2021)

In my CWL 213: Comics & Graphic Novels course, I always include a unit on Afrofuturist comics, centering work by Black authors and scholars. One of the key texts we read is John Jennings and Damian Duffy’s Eisner-winning graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred. Through this text, students discuss the history the enslavement in the U.S. and the affordances of comics in bearing witness to, and critically addressing, racial violence and legacies of injustice. Our secondary reading draws from Sami Schalk’s Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction, offering student’s additional context for thinking about the visual representation of bodily injury and disability in the comic. Furthermore, we explore the genre and notion of Afro-/Ethno-Gothic horror as a means to critique anti-Black violence and the horrors of white supremacy and xenophobia more broadly.

Reading comics at the intersection of Black Lives Matter is central to my commitment to showcasing a diversity of artists perspectives and drawing attention to issues of human and civil rights across global locations and historical period. Furthermore, addressing racial and anti-Black violence in the U.S. enables students to make empathetic connections across different geographic and temporal locations, as well as life experiences that might be very different from their own. As we traverse comics dealing with topics such as the bombing of Hiroshima, the Holocaust, tensions at the U.S.-Mexico Border, and the Iranian Revolution, it is my hope that students not only reflect on cross-cultural historical trauma and political violence, but also our shared humanity and struggles for social justice.

Instructor: Dr. Jeannette Acevedo Rivera  
Course: SPAN 310: Introduction to Literary Analysis 

In Spanish 310: Introduction to Literary Analysis I have always included a section on Afro-Caribbean poetry in which students have the opportunity to explore literary depictions of the experiences of Afro-descendants in Spanish-speaking islands. From Cuba, students read “Mujer negra” (“Black Woman”) by Nancy Morejón, a trans-historical account of a female-slave who narrates how after centuries she becomes part of the new country and participates in its national struggles (including the one for communism). The two examples from Puerto Rico that students analyze give them different perspectives of Afro-Caribbean lives that present the intersections of race and gender. In “Ay, ay, ay de la grifa negra” (“Cry of the Kinky Haired Girl”) Julia de Burgos celebrates the Black female body by exalting her hair, lips, and nose. The poet laments her grandfather’s fate of being a slave but confesses that she prefers that over the shame of him being the master. Meanwhile, Luis Palés Matos portrays in “Majestad negra” (“Black Majesty”) a celebration that evokes the Puerto Rican slave dance, the “bomba,” in which a Black queen is the center of attention. The gendered viewpoint of Palés Matos’s poetic voice allows for an interesting discussion about the fetishization of the Black female subject.   

To me, it is extremely important to expose students to these accounts of Black experiences in a course that gives them a panoramic view of the literature produced in Spanish-speaking countries. The majority of students in that class are Chicanxs/Latinxs who very rarely have learned about racial dynamics in the Caribbean or in the Spanish-speaking world as a whole. As they are now witnessing the appeals and struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, it is essential that they have the tools to question colorism and racism in their own communities.   

Instructor: Dr. Norbert Schürer
Course: ENGL 681R: Jane Austen

When most people think of Jane Austen, they think of pretty bonnets, horse-drawn carriages, and country dances. While those are certainly part of the picture, Austen was also involved in the business of empire, both because she lived in a time of almost constant international war and because two of her brothers became high-ranking officers in the Royal Navy and travelled all over the world in that capacity. In particular, Austen demonstrated some interest in the slave plantations in the West Indies, i.e., the Caribbean. Even more specifically, she was writing in the window between the abolition of the slave trade (1807) and the abolition of enslavement in most of the British empire (1833).

In my major author course on Jane Austen, ENGL 681R, these issues have always formed an important part of the discussion of Austen’s 1814 novel Mansfield Park. After reading the novel, where the main estate is supported by the plantation economy, we discuss the ground-breaking 1993 essay “Jane Austen and Empire” by the Orientalist Edward Said, which argues that Austen implicitly accepted and supported the slave trade. Then, we read some of the many responses to Said, which alternately argue that he is right, that Austen was an anti-racist who opposed slavery, or that she was an ameliorationist who believed that slavery would ‘naturally’ end because the slave trade had been abolished. Finally, we return to Mansfield Park to reassess the novel on our own.

Instructor: Jeanelle Uy
Course: ANTH 315 Human Variation

In ANTH 315, I spend time on the history of the study of human variation, which started out as the study of human “races”, and how early racist and colonialist approaches still have reverberating effects on today’s popular views about race and human bodies.

I typically assign various types of media outside of lecture, such as TED Talks, readings, and podcasts that are about or produced/written by Black, Brown, and Indigenous authors/creators. For example, an early reading I assign when we talk about evolution is an article about John Edmonstone, a formerly enslaved man from Guyana who taught Charles Darwin about tropical animals and taxidermy at the University of Edinburgh, before the voyage of the HMS Beagle.

I also introduce to students how certain standards of “normality” we have today are intertwined with the history and influence of colonization and enslavement of Africans (as well as Indigenous Americans). Black (and other POC) bodies were falsely pathologized or deemed “less evolved”; as a consequence, we now have standards of “normality” that were largely based on the opposite of what was perceived to be the Black condition. One example is the perception that only thin/slender bodies can be beautiful and healthy while other bodies are not. For this, I assign an interview with Dr. Sabrina Strings, author of Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia. Another example is the perception that a male body should have a substantially different appearance and gender expression from a female body, since a “heightened difference between sexes” was perceived to be “evolved” and “civilized”. Western imperialist cultures emphasized binary gender roles and expression partially because these were not universal among those they colonized. Related to this, I assign excerpts from Dr. Oyeronke Oyewumi’s The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses.

It is my hope that students leave my classroom with a raised consciousness about implicit bias and equipped with vocabulary and solutions to have informed and equitable behaviors and conversations in their daily lives around race.

Instructor: Amy Wax
Course: PSY 381: Introduction to Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Long-Standing Practice: In PSY 381, one of the topics that is emphasized is workplace diversity. This includes discussing racial stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination in the workplace, as well as the beneficial impact of diversity on workplace outcomes. 

Instructor: Dr. Kerry Woodward
Course: SOC 460: Poverty and Public Policy

 SOC 460: Poverty and Public Policy aims to show how white supremacist policies created the disproportionate poverty faced by Black communities and how racist discourses—and the policies that followed—further entrenched this poverty by promoting policing rather than investment in Black communities. Course readings show that anti-Black racism has been a primary historical and contemporary factor in reproducing economic inequality in the U.S., and in explaining our nation’s high rates of poverty and low levels of redistribution.

Students read The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein, to gain an understanding of the government’s role in the creation of poor Black neighborhoods, and wealthy white suburbs. Next semester, I plan to include parts of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s 2019 book, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, which explores the linkages between government policy and predatory real-estate practices.

Later in the course, we read Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race, by Joe Soss, Richard Fording, and Sanford Schram, to explore the way racism has been a constitutive factor in shaping the anti-welfare, pro-policing policies of the past half century. As part of this unit, we also read a report from The Sentencing Project: Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System.

Throughout the semester, we read a wide variety of materials (including many policy reports) from a range of disciplines. Included in the required readings are works by many scholars of color, especially Black women, including: legal scholar Dorothy Roberts; historian Elizabeth Hinton; sociologist Alexes Harris; and welfare rights activist, Johnnie Tillmon. The course concludes with students finishing their final papers, where they research a social problem related to poverty and then analyze possible policy solutions. Issues related to racial justice—including everything from mass incarceration to immigrant rights to environmental injustice to the eviction crisis—are frequent topics.

Instructor: Marcus Young Owl
Course: ANTH 315: Human Variation

In ANTH 315 I cover the race concept, its history, and discuss how it has been misused and show why it is considered invalid by modern science, ending that section with the official statement from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists stating that race is no longer considered valid.

In the next section of the course I do a survey of the history, legalities, and experience of several American ethnicities including the Black population, American Indians, and Mexican-Americans.  Asians and Europeans are also covered, but not as in depth as the other three groups.

The basis of human variation – genetic mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, and gene flow – is discussed.  The last fourth of the course begins with current ideas regarding the origin of modern humans and the genetics of migration.  The rest of the course looks at acclimatization and biological adaptation, including limb lengths and body morphology, skin color, hair structure, unique adaptations of some human populations to such things as high altitude, finishing with a critique of studies that try to equate intelligence with ethnicity.

Recent Change

Instructor: Dr. Norbert Schürer
Course: ENGL 681R: Jane Austen

In the most recent version of ENGL 681R, I decided also to teach the novel fragment “Sanditon,” which Austen was working on when she died in 1817. While some scholars consider it problematic to teach a fragment (Austen only completed about one fifth of the novel), the text is remarkable because it has a mixed-race character. This character, a young “half mulatto” (Austen’s words), has a white father and a black mother. The novel (such as it exists) hardly deals with her racial status, but rather is develops ideas about her wealth. Various critics and students have interpreted this situation alternately as Austen being blind to race or Austen taking a progressive position in accepting the young woman regardless of her skin color. In the context of Black Lives Matters, it is important for students to discuss these issues and realize that even literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can deal with race in nuanced ways.