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Staff and faculty “go back to school” for race

By: Rachel Brustein
This semester, many staff and faculty are taking a seven week peer-taught course called “What is Race?” Each Monday, the staff and faculty gather in Merrick Hall for a 90-minute class taught by a different faculty member each week. “We’ve gone back to school on race,” said Kelly Brown Douglas, Professor of Religion, who is both teaching and participating in the course.
The course was designed by Yousuf Al-Bulushi, Assistant Professor of Peace Studies, and Steve DeCaroli, Associate Professor of Philosophy. At a faculty meeting last semester about race, one person expressed the need to gain a better understanding of the academic theory behind race. After hearing this, DeCaroli and Al-Bulushi thought setting up a course for faculty and staff would be a good way to address this. They asked various faculty members to teach from their discipline and then set up a registration last semester. People signed up. There are about 70 people in the course, including faculty, staff from Dorsey Center, the Office of Student Engagement, secretarial offices and other areas of the college.
“We [Al-Bulushi and DeCaroli] went to those people whose work and scholarship and teaching was in the area of race studies,” DeCaroli said. One aim of the course is for faculty to teach in a clear but not simplistic manner. “I believe you can communicate extremely difficult material in a way that is accessible,” DeCaroli added.
“I don’t think we’ve been 100 percent successful in reaching our goal of bridging faculty and staff, and bridging departments within faculty,” Professor of Sociology Jamie Mullaney said. “We’re so deep in our disciplines sometimes…that I think sometimes we are taking foundational knowledge for granted other people in the audience may not have.” Each week, the participants come as they are; there is no required reading or any prep involved. The class starts out as a lecture and then moves into discussion; there are optional follow-up readings put online afterwards.
“What is Race?” is being tackled from the standpoint of seven disciplines. Douglas is teaching in the course on a topic called, “Is God a white racist?” Douglas will address one particular question as the premise of her discussion: “in the light of racial injustice, what are we to say about God?” The lesson will focus on the intersection between race and theology. Douglas’s scholarship “explores questions of the meaning God’s justice in relation to various social justice issues,” she added.
Mullaney taught a session called “More than Meets the Eye: Sociological Insights into the Blind Spots of Race,” a lesson which covers “the intersections of meaning, classifications and perceptions,” Mullaney said. “It’s important to see how other disciplines are talking about race…to know more of the history, the current scholarship…it’s nice to be able to see my colleagues teach [and] interact with them in different ways,” she commented.
“I’m learning a lot. These are the kinds of conversations that I enjoy participating in…they’re very academically grounded,” said Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Emily Billo, who is taking the course. “I’m hopeful that smaller conversations will emerge after the seminar ends.”
Currently, there is not a plan for another course, though the current course could serve as a model for future seminars for staff and faculty. “At least on this topic, it was important for staff and faculty to go to school,” DeCaroli said. “I think [it’s great] for staff and faculty to come together and say to each other as a community that we are also capable of learning with each other.”
“What really needs to happen next is lessons and conversations on what do you do in the classroom,” Phaye Poliakoff-Chen, Director of the Writing Program, said. She mentioned wanting people to “get to the next level” on conversations about race, especially in the classroom.
“Goucher is doing something I don’t know of any other institutions of our nature doing,” Douglas said, which is notable because campuses across the country have dealt with issues of race throughout the past year. “Goucher didn’t say ‘okay, we dealt with that and now we can move on’; students raised this issue and Goucher has taken it seriously.”
This course grew out of the Faculty Anti-Racism Collective (the Collective), which began last January when faculty members met with students of color to discuss and create sustainable support for students of color on campus. Throughout the spring semester, a group of about 30 faculty members from several departments met informally to talk about race on campus. “It was really a response to the students, and taking seriously what the students said last year about the faculty needing to pay more attention and show up for the issues that are on campus regarding race,” DeCaroli said.
In addition to the course, two other projects have emerged and are emerging from the Collective. The first is a series of dinners where faculty members meet to have a continued conversation about race. The second is a letter that is being written by a small group of faculty in the Collective, which will address all faculty at the college. “We call it ‘a letter to ourselves,’” Billo said. The letter has not gone out yet, but it may be used to “prompt these smaller group discussions after the seminar yet.” Members of the Collective have read the final draft of the letter, though the rest of the faculty have not.
Continuity is an important aspect of these conversations in order to make them as impactful as possible. Ailish Hopper, Assistant Professor of Peace Studies, explained that there cannot just be a faculty response when students complain, but there has to be faculty support all the time for students of color.
This course will not change or end discrimination against students of color, and there is still work to do. Still, faculty and staff are hopeful that this could be a step in the right direction. “The fact that we’re doing this changes the cultural climate,” DeCaroli said.

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