May 1, 2021

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. We will highlight one course each month.  You can view all of our courses here:

See the description 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:

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.