final reflections- reflective assignment 4

Posted on March 16, 2008

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This was a final class evaluation-

1. Are you a Black Studies major or did you have a similarily strong background in the topics of this class?

2. Which best describes your overall experience in this class?

3. Which of the following activities led to the MOST and LEAST engagement and learning on the topics of this class?

4. For any of the above categories, please comment on specific examples of what went well, what went poorly, and what you would recommend to make things go better. Explain with detailed examples.

5. In what ways did the professor help you and other students in making this class an engaging and educational environment and in what ways could the professor make this class a more engaging and educational experience?

6. Did the professor’s race have an impact on your personal learing in this class? Explain with detailed examples.

7. Leaving this class, do you think you have gained a greater understanding of racism, power, and white privilege?

8. Leaving this class, do you think you have gained a greater understanding of what YOU CAN DO about racism, power, and white privilege?

The answers below may or not reflect an exact response to these questions. A lot of my responses were a free-write based on ideas brought up by these questions. However, I plan to directly respond to these questions during the coming weeks as I absorb what happened in this class more fully, as well as the usefulness, and implications for these questions, and what different questions need to be asked in order to really get to the heart of these issues…

I am not a Black Studies major and didn’t have a strong background in the topics of this class, but I am working towards a Black studies minor that I will complete next term.

I was engaged because of the commitment and knowledge that fellow students brought to the class, but the facilitation was severely lacking.

Activities that led to the most engagement and learning were the guest lecture by Heidi Tolentino at Cleveland High School whose work as an anti-racist teacher can be used as a model, the reflective blog, whole group discussions (small groups would have worked better with a smaller class and/or a longer time period for the class), and mostly from discussion and connections with other students outside of class to discuss what was lacking in the classroom.

The least engaging aspects of the class were lectures by the professor, books and readings (except for Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists- a must read!- and Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me), but I was mostly familiar with the other readings. In addition, small group discussions didn’t work because the size of the class was too large, time was short, and it often got so loud in there, you couldn’t hear what people were saying. The final action project should have begun at the beginning of the term to make connections and help alliance-building (allies) between white students and students of color.

Specific examples of changes I would recommend:

-Curriculum should acknowledge and reflect the significance of the origin of white studies, which is in critical white studies which originated from critical race theory (both by Black people) so that white priviledge doesn’t co-opt knowledge

-Curriculum should incorporate specific framework of critical white studies done by Richard Delgado

– If “fishbowl” exercise is going to happen, students of color as well as white students should have the opportunity to express their voices without the interference and often domineering voices of white students; If the point is to create allies, we need to know what people of color need from white people

-Professor needs to consciously work harder towards counteracting socialized patterns of privileging the white students which means better facilitation, i.e., not letting white students “dumb down” the curriculum, as well as giving equal voice to students of color so white students don’t dominate class time

-Co-teacher needed who is a woman of color. Female as well as person of color perspective is needed. This would dramatically improve the dynamics of the class (Yes, the race of the teacher does matter! Look at learning gaps, test score, drop-out rates, and the disproportionate number of white teachers vs. teachers of color- this can all by measured by race)

– Spending a week or two on white privilege should be sufficient. If white students don’t “get” the theories, the class shouldn’t be “dumbed down”, and final action projects should be initiated at the beginning of the term for ally-building. If white students don’t “get it” through theorizing maybe action will help.

Professor didn’t really help to make class engaging and educational- he was open to changing the syllabus and listening (this was appreciated) but the changes he made reflected that he didn’t “get it” either. With a white male teacher, it becomes even more apparent why a course about whiteness and privilege (what we may all know as white male privilege) needs a co-teacher, a female and a woman of color might help to reveal the other perspective of white male privilege. This course has shown how difficult it is for white students to even admit or understand the implications of their white privilege, hence the need to push us even further. In addition, by not telling us his background at the beginning of the class, the professor negated potential for a trusting and safe-space environment that the class really needed, as a necessary ingredient to address the traumatic and personal as well as structural dynamics of racism and white privilege. The lack of good facilitation by the professor created a fragmented class environment (which is why so many students started connecting outside of class) and made it difficult to come up with solutions to the racial problems which we were all there to discuss.

The professor could make the course more engaging and education by having a co-teacher (as discussed above), revising the syllabus (with suggestions I added above- make changes specific to Delgado’s critical white studies research and publications), and making a very concerted effort not to privilege the white students in the class.

Finally, YES, the race of the professor matters! (as described above) For example, the changes the professor made during the course due to the intervention by frustrated students of color as well as a few white students, still did not address his white male privilege until the 8th or 9th week of class where he gave us a family history that still didn’t break down his white privilege, nor suggest any way to deconstruct it and/or use it for change in the racial hierarchy of which white privilege maintains and perpetuates. His teaching style also did not address or make changes to counter the normative way in which the learning and experiential gap between white students and students of color occurs. To clarify, the white students in the class were for the most not ahead, but way behind.

However, because of the knowledge brought to the class mostly by the students of color as well as a few white students, in addition to their patience, compassion, and commitment to helping us white students “get it”, I gained a greater understanding of racism, power, and privilege. As far as what to do about it, I plan to follow through on some of the budding friendships and connections made with students of color as well as a few white students, in taking action.

White privilege is about the ability to choose whether or not to be in the fight in the first place, to what extend, and if and when to quit- and although I can’t do much to disinvest from my own white privilege, I can use it to do good things- hence I must use it.

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