Teaching Towards Equity: Time to Rethink
Part of an occasional Clumps now series on how faculty integrate racial and social justice issues into curricula, an integral part of a university-wide strategy dismantle systemic racism. Learn more about Teach towards equity to Clumps now.
Erin Seaton, who teaches future teachers, repeats the words of civil rights icon John Lewis: We may not have chosen the moment, but the time has chosen us.
“We are in a moment that we cannot escape,” says Seaton, senior lecturer in the education department of the School of Arts and Sciences. “We cannot escape the conversation about race, racial identity, white supremacy and its impact on the students and the classroom. “
As professors on Tufts campuses prepared for the current semester, during a spring and summer that saw angst over murders of black men and women and escalating protests Against systemic racism, many have found themselves looking for ways to reflect the quest for racial justice in their teaching. “Race is permeated with all aspects of our lives and experiences and cannot be left behind by just one thing,” Seaton says.
In some departments, these concepts were already an integral part of the curriculum. “Social justice and sustainability issues are in the DNA of a department like ours,” says Julian Agyeman, professor of urban and environmental policy and planning. “These crises are just confirmation of what we already knew.”
For others, the connections can be a bit more difficult to disentangle. “Where is [racial justice] fit if you plug numbers into an equation? How do you bring it into the classroom when there is no obvious ramp? ”Asks Associate Professor Sean Cash, who teaches the Introductory Statistics course at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “When you talk about racism, the bigger problem isn’t the fanatic yelling obscenities on his lawn,” Cash says, it’s the systemic racism beneath the surface. “It’s the same in the classroom – it’s not where the easy connections are, but where you have to squint to see where the connections are. “
Finding these connections will not happen in a single semester. For teachers, it will be about self-reflection; listen; rethinking long established canonical programs or sources; university support; and some trial and error. ” This work is ongoing. There is no end, ”says Ryan Rideau, associate director of the Tufts Center for Improved Learning and Teaching (CELT).
In August, around 90 professors from Tufts connected to a seminar on anti-racism education. “I have certainly seen an increase in the number of people contacting me about anti-racism education, in a wide variety of disciplines and across campuses,” says Rideau.
CELT has sponsored many programs specifically focused on creating inclusive and equitable classrooms, as well as individual counseling on this topic. “The important thing is to build anti-racism and fairness into all of our programs, not just those that have these words explicitly in the title,” says Rideau.
This interest among faculty is reflected by students of Tufts. For about a decade, Agyeman has taught a food justice course, which examines the intersecting racial, economic and environmental factors in the food system. Unsurprisingly, for the fall 2020 semester, “it was largely oversubscribed,” Agyeman says. “The students were jostling to enter.
But students aren’t just looking for one-on-one lessons – they want an educational experience that reflects anti-racist values, recognizes diverse perspectives, and examines biases deeply embedded in the program. In Seaton’s Introductory Education class, for example, the topic of racial identity in the classroom was discussed several times during the term. “The students didn’t want to wait halfway through the semester,” she says. The topic needed to be covered from the start, so she revamped the course.
“The students insisted on it,” she says. “Students are much more willing right now to be brave and daring, thinking about how they can engage in conversations that may have been confusing before. “
What is also emerging, she says, is the reality that beyond the actions or attitudes of a single individual, structural biases in the foundations of higher education must be confronted and eliminated.
“Getting out of this crisis must be an opportunity,” Seaton says. “The idea is not to go back to where things were, but to really think about what we are teaching.”
The call for impartial data
Following the death of George Floyd at the end of May, the computer science department of the School of Engineering set up a suggestion box for student input on issues of inclusion and diversity, among other actions. Overwhelmingly, “students want more discussion of societal impact in their classes,” says Professor Kathleen Fisher, chair of the department.
Think about databases. The biases of a society become commemorated in the type of data it collects, the way that data is classified and the uses to which it is made. Machine learning programs, for example, “are only as good as the data they were trained on,” says Fisher. So when a machine learning algorithm, such as the one designed to make sentencing and parole recommendations, or to determine who gets a loan, uses biased data to predict outcomes, “you’re essentially coding data. discriminatory, ”she said.
Likewise, data is the basis of Sean Cash’s Statistics course at Friedman, required for students in three of the school’s master’s programs. “We look at the data in order to understand the world around us,” he says. “And we can’t look at the whole world, so the statistics give us a subset and we can make inferences and tell stories from that.”
But the same structural biases that permeate society persist in data – how it’s collected, from whom and how it’s used, says Cash. Populations excluded from data collection are as important as those included.
For example, when Lauren Crowe, professor of biology, discusses the human genome and what it means for scientific research in her cell and organism class, she points out that “it’s really important to look at where it comes from. reference data ‘, which is mainly people of European descent. “It’s based on a Eurocentric point of view,” she says, stressing the need to research diverse populations to make the data inclusive.
Traditionally, biology texts have been framed by “a bunch of historical experiments conducted by wealthy, white, cis-type men,” Crowe says. “Students from different backgrounds may not see each other in science, and this diminishes their sense of belonging. I try to bring in contributions from black scientists, scientists of color, women scientists. “
Bio 13, which Crowe teaches in the fall, is an introductory course, one of the largest in the entire university with around 480 students. It serves as a kind of gatekeeper for undergraduates interested in pursuing a career in health sciences or scientific and biomedical research. In addition to teaching all the fundamental concepts, Crowe considers his job to be to impart inclusion, because even in a lecture this can have lasting effects.
“Everyone should be able to see themselves as part of the historical scientific timeline,” she says. “If a student takes my class and decides biology isn’t for them, I don’t want it to be because I haven’t made it accessible. “
Hélène Ragovin can be contacted at [email protected].