Some of us on campus had anti-racism training recently. There were good discussions, mostly. But I left frustrated because at the end, there was a basic message that white folks on campus need to step back and leave leadership to people of color.
On one level, I really understand that. In the Peace Corps, one of the aspects of development I learned about is that you have to start with peoples' perceived needs, and on some level, you have to work with those. If people perceive a need for clean water, you address that issue.
But I also see two really important problems with that approach here.
First, the people who control money on campus are all white, and pretty much all male. Those people need to hear what the people of color on campus are saying, but they need to take leadership on allocating resources, until and unless we hire (and keep) some people of color with power in the administrative building. (I don't think the overall whiteness of the administration is going to change in the next ten years, but I think we can--and have to--do a whole lot of anti-racist work on the way to changing that status.)
Second, if our campus is going to do anti-racist work, then it needs to happen in classrooms, and in my classroom, I have most of the power. It's unethical to expect any student(s) to design curricula, put together a syllabus, and so forth. And it's unrealistic to think that my mostly white students are going to come in with that as a priority now (maybe in ten years if we really do make anti-racism work so that people come here because we're known as an anti-racist campus).
Here's what I'm asking: focusing on the classroom, how do we make the classroom an anti-racist space, starting from the assumption that I'm a moderately aware white who's made and making efforts to be an ally. (That is, don't tell me I shouldn't point to an African American student to explain all of African American culture to the class. My high school pretty much taught me that.)
Are there ways to make a syllabus anti-racist in different classes? In a writing class? A poetry class? A Shakespeare class? (Beyond teaching, say, poets of color, or using colonial/post-colonial theory.) Is there structural stuff in writing the syllabus? Making assignments?
I was a little frustrated at the training session that we started at what I thought was a pretty basic level talking about stuff I learned in high school, college, the Peace Corps, and so forth. But my frustration ebbed when I realized that these were pretty new issues for a lot of people. I guess I sort of assumed that everyone talked about race, class, and gender issues in their dorm hallways, as we did 30 years ago. I guess I assumed that all grad programs at least give grad TAs some basic discussion of these issues in the classroom.
(I don't assume most people have had a Peace Corps like experience. So at least I'm not totally naive there. But I really did realize at the training once again how much that experience formed my adult self.)