antiracist teaching practices
“Antiracism is not an identity or a checklist; it’s a practice.”
— Andrea Ranae
We do not become antiracist educators after attending an hour-long webinar. Committing to antiracist teaching practice in a white supremacist culture requires a lifetime of reflection, study, research, advocacy, and transformation of practice at the individual and institutional levels.
In what follows we introduce five practices fundamental to developing as antiracist educators, and point the way to additional resources, reading lists, and programs.
The Five Fundamentals of AntiRacist Teaching
Reflection: Strengthen awareness of racial exclusion and engage in critical reassessment of one’s practices
Climate: Foster an antiracist classroom climate
Curriculum: Revise course and program curricula to better reflect diverse contributions to (and address exclusions from) the discipline
Equity: Investigate and take responsibility for equitable access and outcomes at the course, program, and campus level
Inclusion: Practice inclusive course design and delivery
The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) includes in its definition of inclusive excellence the importance of educators who are willing to “critically reassess their own practices,” be race-conscious, and be “aware of the social and historical context of exclusionary practices” in higher education in the United States.
In addition to this awareness practice, educators committed to practicing anti-racism can engage in ongoing personal reflection to build intrapersonal awareness, which involves “engaging in a reflexive and critical examination of the ideas, assumptions, and values that we bring to the classroom” (Salazar et al. 2009).
Resources for educator personal reflection:
Classroom climate is an important contributor to students’ sense of belonging, which in turn affects students’ ability and motivation to learn and to persist in their education (Strayhorn 2019). Classroom climate refers to the implicit and explicit messages in every teaching and learning context that indicate what and who is valued. It includes a “constellation of interacting factors” such as: faculty-student interactions; the tone set by the instructor; student-to-student interactions; implicit norms or expectations for interactions; the course demographics; the perspectives represented in the course content and materials, and more (Ambrose et al. 2010).
Educators can strive to create more anti-racist, inclusive learning environments through such actions as: making transparent our course expectations and rationale for assignments; collaboratively creating community guidelines with our students; and being intentional with how we communicate about student learning, such as by using growth-mindset language and reducing stereotype threat.
Resources for creating a more anti-racist classroom climate:
Classroom Climate (Life Sciences Education Inclusive Teaching Guide)
Reducing Stereotype Threat: Strategies for Instructors (Washington University)
Our academic disciplines and their core curricula carry legacies of oppression that have ongoing impact, including structural racism and colonialism. What we may consider as the “usual” practices for constructing knowledge in our disciplines are neither neutral nor objective. Practicing anti-racist teaching involves, but importantly does not end at, revising our curricula— both at the individual course level and at the departmental/programmatic level—to better reflect the contributions that a wide variety of scholars and communities have made to the discipline or field. It also involves bringing explicit attention to the exclusions that our disciplines have perpetuated, in order to support students to strengthen their own critical thinking skills and confidence in their own and their communities’ contributions to the field. Keep in mind that the curriculum includes more than course materials; it also can include the examples, metaphors, and case studies that are utilized (Ambrose et al. 2010).
Resources for developing anti-racist curricula:
Educational equity practitioners like Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, and their colleagues have noted that the word “equity” has become more widely accepted in higher education environments, becoming as commonplace as (and sometimes used interchangeably with) the term “diversity” (McNair et al. 2020). While a diversity lens focuses on bringing in more students into an institution or field of study, an equity lens focuses on redressing institutional barriers that get in the way of student persistence and success (USC Center for Urban Education). Equity places emphasis on successful outcomes for the students who have been excluded from and are marginalized in spaces of learning.
McNair, Bensimon, and colleagues (2020) utilize a three-part definition of equity:
Equity is a means of corrective justice (McPherson 2015) that aims to support minoritized populations willfully excluded from higher education.
Equity is an antiracist project that aims to confront overt and covert racism embedded in institutional structures, policies, and practices (Pollock 2009).
Equity requires practitioners to see whiteness as a norm that operates, unperceived, through structures, policies, and practices that racialize the culture and outcomes of higher education institutions.
Creating the conditions for equitable student outcomes requires educators to counter assumptions about and interpretations of student performance that fail to notice racial inequities. It requires providing more resources and support to students who have not received it (USC Center for Urban Education).
Resources for creating more equitable learning outcomes:
Inclusive teaching involves “deliberately cultivating a learning environment where all students are treated equitably, have equal access to learning, and feel valued and supported in their learning. Such teaching attends to social identities and seeks to change the ways systemic inequities shape dynamics in teaching-learning spaces” (University of Michigan CRLT).
Moreover, it is an approach to teaching that is student-centered and holistic, in that it “engages the wealth of intersecting social identities and positionalities that all students bring to the classroom” and “permeate[s] every aspect of curriculum and course design,” including assessment practices (Iturbe-LaGrave 2018).
Inclusive teaching practices (in any discipline) include (but are not limited to):
Co-creating with students expectations for classroom engagement
Building continuous feedback and iteration into the design of the course (Chew, Houston, and Cooper 2020)
Implementing Universal Design for Learning principles into the design of the course
Providing students with options for assessment
Resources for integrating inclusive teaching practices:
Inclusive Assessment Practices (Tufts University)
Practices for Teaching in Times of Trauma (Imad 2020)
Inclusive Teaching (Dewsbury and Brame 2019)
The Anti-Racist Discussion Pedagogy handbook (Chew, Houston, and Cooper 2020)
Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or High-Stakes Topics (University of Michigan)