To provide recommendations for faculty members engaged in anti-racist course design.
Anti-racist course design can result in both transformative and affirmative learning experiences for students. Ibram X. Kendi (2019) captures the essence of what it means to be anti-racist:
The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’
As applied to course design, instructors who integrate anti-racism into their courses expose students to racial injustices through course content and learning activities in an effort to highlight inequities. Anti-racist instructors are aware that the voices and important contributions of those who have been marginalized have been systematically excluded, and that taking actionable steps to design a course where such racial injustices are intentionally put at the forefront of learner’s awareness is important. Designing curricula to be anti-racist can be a transformative learning experience for students, providing opportunities for them to reevaluate their assumptions and shift their frames of reference around issues of race and racial injustice (Mezirow, 1991). Such learning experiences can also affirm the identities of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students and other learners with social identities who have been historically marginalized, allowing them to see themselves in curricula in which they may have traditionally been excluded.
There is a continuum to which instructors can integrate anti-racism into course design, from smaller activities to developing an entire course using an anti-racist framework. Below are a few recommended practices to help faculty members get started with this process.
Use backward design and begin by writing learning outcomes that capture what students should be able to know or do around anti-racism after successfully completing the course. Below are sample learning outcomes.
To be able to:
Courses addressing racial injustice in part may have one or few learning outcomes focused on anti-racism, while courses where anti-racism is embedded throughout the content may have several.
If revising a course that has an existing syllabus, examine whether there are natural places to further develop anti-racist content, or if not, future opportunities. For example, this may include introducing students to scenarios where systemic racism is or has been present in the discipline. Additionally, this may also involve a deeper exploration of BIPOC authors, works or experts in the field whose voices have been historically marginalized. Instructors can consider searching for available articles within the field from respected sources that discuss systemic racism for more ideas, and/or locate syllabi from similar courses.
There are a variety of activities that may help students achieve learning outcomes around anti-racism. A few examples are noted below.
For topics that may be sensitive or contain challenging content, provide students with content or trigger warnings in advance. Please also view the resource Helping Students Discuss Race Openly for tips. At the beginning of class state the learning outcomes to be addressed, in addition to the rationale as to why they are learning the material. Establish a few ground rules for discussion together as a class such as:
More sample guidelines can be found in the resource Helping Students Discuss Race Openly.
Provide students with a few discussion prompts prior to class to allow them time to reflect upon the material. Examples based on a general reading on systemic racism in the discipline may include:
Students may be asked to go further into depth on a particular racial injustice issue, a particular work, author or disciplinary expert, and give a presentation. Students may also be asked to write up a reflective essay discussing what they learned. Allowing students to choose their topics with some guidance aligns with the principles of Universal Design for Learning and can increase student engagement.
Taking on a predetermined perspective can be particularly powerful and allow students to view racial injustice from another viewpoint and not feel the pressures to speak from their own views. During the discussion, ask students to take on the perspectives of BIPOC people who have experienced racism, or use recordings from their own experiences or stories. Some disciplines may also have resources that highlight the contributions of Black and Brown people in their fields (e.g. BlackinNeuro). Also faculty members can consider collections such as those provided through the National Museum of African American History & Culture and integrate them in their courses.
Allowing students to choose how they present the topic aligns with the principles of Universal Design for Learning and can increase student motivation and engagement. The professor can share with students general criteria by which the assignment will be graded. Please see the sample digital storytelling podcast My Incarcerated Family that won a New York Times Student Podcast Contest as a sample powerful, authentic assessment.
An instructor plans to facilitate a general discussion on the topic of White privilege. Recognizing that not all students may have been exposed to this concept in their prior experiences, they assign the reading White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. At the beginning of class the instructor describes how the reading relates to course content and learning outcomes. The instructor next asks students to engage in 1-min quiet writing exercise using the following prompt, “Write down what most stood out to you from the reading.” The instructor then facilitates a whole-class discussion on the reading.
For sensitive and challenging topics, the instructor plays a critical role in moderating the discussion. Generally, facilitated whole group discussion will be important for such activities to ensure that discussion guidelines are followed and that the faculty member is moderating if microaggressions are committed or hurtful comments are made so that they can be addressed. Frameworks such as R.A.V.E.N. and ACTION can be used by faculty members to respond to such microaggressions. Similarly, much care should be used prior to deciding whether to confine such discussions to a fully asynchronous, unmoderated platform. In general anti-racism can be an uncomfortable topic for discussion for both faculty members and students, but even more harmful to ignore (Simmons, 2019), and lead to powerful teaching and learning opportunities.
CITLS workshop slides: Addressing Anti-Black Racism in Teaching and Learning
Landsman, J. (2016). Helping Students Discuss Race Openly. ASCD, 74 (3).
McIntosh, P. (1998). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In M. McGoldrick (Ed.), Re-visioning family therapy: Race, culture, and gender in clinical practice (p. 147–152). The Guilford Press. (Reprinted from “Peace and Freedom,”” July/August 1989, pp. 10–12.]
National Museum of African American History & Culture. Talking About Race.
Simmons, D. (2019). How to Be an Antiracist Educator. ASCD, 61(10).
Kendi, I. (2019). How to be an antiracist. Bodley Head.
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. Jossey-Bass.