A Guest Blogger Thinks about Starting Conversations about Racial Tensions at American Universities

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Cervone.jpgGuest blogger Skye Cervone is a PhD student in Comparative Studies at Florida Atlantic University where she teaches Freshman Composition and Interpretation of Fiction. She holds an M.A. in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature and is the Student Caucus Representative for The International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts. Her current research focuses on biopolitics and animal studies in Science Fiction. Skye’s work has appeared in Critical Essays on Lord Dunsany and Animalia: An Anthrozoology Journal.

While the prospect of addressing racial tension at American universities in our classrooms may seem daunting, the continued student protests at The University of Missouri at Columbia after the resignation of their president, Timothy M. Wolfe and the planned exit of their chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, highlight the importance of discussing this issue openly and directly with our students. Emerging offers several essays that can provide instructors with important starting points for such discussions. Since many students might be unfamiliar with the current tension at universities such as Mizzou and Yale, it might be helpful to discuss the timeline leading up to Mr. Wolfe’s resignation in The Chronicle of Higher Education as a prelude to engaging the readings from Emerging. I also suggest having students familiarize themselves with the death threats the black students at Mizzou have received and the protesters’ confrontation with a journalist.

Rebekah Nathan, “Community and Diversity”—Nathan’s essay offers an important starting point for getting students to think about the kinds of social groups that exist at universities. Nathan problematizes the existence of a cohesive sense of community that includes diversity on contemporary university campuses. Her argument can allow students to interrogate the concepts of community and diversity at Mizzou and see how student experiences at singular locations can be varied based upon whether one is inside or outside of select “communities,” especially along racial lines, leading to a sense of isolation and frustration.

Nathan Gladwell, “Small Change” —Gladwell’s essay is, of course, one of the most logical choices when approaching any social change movement, especially a movement aimed at combatting discrimination. By comparing the tactics used by activists involved in the Greensboro sit-ins to fairly contemporary social media campaigns, Gladwell determines strong social bonds are required for high-risk activism. His essay provides students with an important vocabulary and set of concepts to approach how the football team at Mizzou was both willing and able to oust a university president.

Jennifer Pozner “Ghetto Bitches, China Dolls, and Cha Cha Divas” —Pozner’s discussion of reality television is a critical piece for introducing students to mass media’s role in perpetuating racial stereotypes and influencing how we talk about race. While many have criticized the Mizzou protestors’ unwillingness to cooperate with the media, Pozner’s essay can allow students to interrogate the social causes for why people of color have reason to be wary of the media and determine ways in which responsible representations can be fostered.

Student protests have continued to spread to other universities, so there will undoubtedly be more opportunities to have important conversations about fostering university communities that provide racial parity and inclusiveness. Other essays that might be of interest are Francis Fukuyama’s “Human Dignity,” which discusses the importance respecting our fellow human beings; or Manuel Muñoz’s “Leave Your Name at the Border,” which might allow students to consider how easily non-white people can be othered and the dehumanizing effects of othering.

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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.