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Anti-Racist Pedagogy in Action: First Steps 

Our goal in creating this resource is to provide a synthesis of anti-racist pedagogy research for Columbia University faculty and graduate instructors who strive to incorporate an anti-racist pedagogy into their personal teaching practice. We offer this guide as a point of entry for instructors from a variety of backgrounds, disciplines, identity positions, and levels of teaching experience who wish to engage in this work. The strategies, summaries, and additional links provide instructors with a theoretical framework upon which to make meaningful, intentional choices in their classrooms.

In compiling this resource, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) does not position itself as an expert on this subject; rather, we are learning and engaging with our teaching community in an ongoing process of collective self-education. To this end, if instructors have additional resources not included here, we welcome your submissions (CTLFaculty@columbia.edu).

“The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify it and describe it–and then dismantle it.” –Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist (2019)  

The racial disparities and inequities highlighted by Covid-19, paired with ongoing police brutality which further underscores the systemic racism in this nation, require a reckoning and response to the United States’ racist past and present. More specifically, this current moment calls upon those in higher education to interrogate the academy’s role in this inequitable system and to envision and create a more equitable and just future. Part of this interrogation is considering the classroom space and enacted pedagogies: are they equitable? Are they anti-racist? Enacting an anti-racist pedagogy is more than adding diverse content to a course or broader curriculum; it is “about how one teaches, even in courses where race is not the subject matter” (Kishimoto, 2018, pp. 540, emphasis in original). Anti-racist pedagogy is a “paradigm located within critical theory utilized to explain and counteract the persistence and impact of racism using praxis as its focus to promote social justice for the creation of a democratic society in every respect” (Blakeney, 2011, pp. 119). It is a pedagogical approach that reveals the structural inequalities within U.S. society, while fostering students’ critical analysis skills, as well as their critical self-reflection. 

In authoring this resource, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) does not position itself as an expert on this subject; rather, we are learning and engaging with our teaching community in an ongoing process of collective self-education. The CTL is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in higher education, and we have created inclusive teaching resources to support educators at Columbia and beyond. Diversity and inclusion are foundational to the CTL’s mission and remain foundational to the Columbia teaching community. While there is certainly overlap between inclusive teaching practices and anti-racist pedagogies, they are not interchangeable. Inclusive teaching practices do not always address systemic inequality, nor do they automatically encompass the healing, decolonization, and justice-oriented work of anti-racist teaching practices. 

This resource centers on citing the experts in this field, synthesizing their work to encourage further research and, most importantly, amplifying the voices of those who have been doing this work for decades. The focus on citation, synthesis, and amplification of existing voices supports the larger goal of this resource: to guide the Columbia teaching community into discussions about anti-racist pedagogies and teaching practices. This resource is by no means exhaustive, but rather acts as a starting point to engage in much more complex and larger discussions. Classrooms serve as microcosms of the larger society, and the resources offered here, while focused on pedagogical practices, support broader commitments to anti-racist actions in higher education. 

Read on to: 

  • Access initial strategies for engaging in anti-racist pedagogical practice 
  • Engage with the literature on anti-racist pedagogies 
  • Identify key themes or patterns in the literature 
  • Acquire sources for further development, research, and self-education
1. Self-Educate and Acknowledge Racial Trauma

Essential first steps in this process are to self-educate about anti-racist pedagogical practices and begin an iterative cycle of self-reflection and continuous learning. It’s important to understand the racial trauma that students, especially students of color, may carry and bring into the classroom. It can help to think broadly about anti-racism, to think of it as a cultural and societal necessity, before making connections to a personal pedagogical and teaching context.

The books by authors like Kendi and Tatum present a broader view of what it means to be anti-racist and situate (anti-)racism within larger historical and sociocultural contexts. While this offers a framework for beginning conversations, Friere and hooks offer more direct teaching support, as their work is explicitly about pedagogy that transforms the classroom into a liberatory space. Lastly, for those looking to critically examine their teaching practices, the related sources listed below can help. The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Talking About Race” webpage offers different starting points depending upon an individual’s perspective (e.g.: “I am an educator” or “I am a parent/caregiver” etc.). 

 

Related Sources: 

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury. 
Pedagogy of the Oppressed is most known for its critique of the “banking model of education,” which Freire describes as mere recitation and memorization of facts. In this model, students “bank” information and facts given to them from the instructor. Instead of the bank model, Friere suggests that educators think about their students as co-creators of knowledge, as critical and reflective participants in the learning process where they construct and reconstruct meaning in their own terms; in doing so, the classroom is transformed into a liberatory and anti-oppressive space.

hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.
In this collection of essays, directed at both teachers and students, hooks writes about a new pedagogy, one that transforms the classroom into a transgressive space, which is the only way in which education becomes the practice of freedom. hooks writes of helping students transgress the everyday racial, sexual, or class barriers they may face. In doing so, hooks reimagines education as a democratic act and a practice of freedom. 

Kendi, I.X. (2019).  How to be an antiracist. One World. 
Kendi offers a clear definition of what it means to be racist and, more importantly, anti-racist, arguing that racist policy often hides behind the guise of neutrality. In each chapter throughout this book, Kendi delves into the layers of systemic racism, drawing out the history and connections across identities and positionalities. Reading like a narrative journey, a reflection of Kendi’s own anti-racist development and transformation, this book provides an entry into intersectional identities and understanding what it means and what is required to be anti-racist in 21st-century America. 

National Museum of African American History and Culture. (n.d.) Talking about Race.
This online guide offers different pathways for talking about race, based on the user’s positionality (e.g.: parent, educator, activist, etc.). While the topics and resources included are the same across positionalities, this guide offers different framing and rationales for each perspective, with an understanding that talking about race as an educator is quite different from, albeit just as important, as talking about race as a parent or caregiver. 

Tatum, B.D. (2017). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race. Basic Books.
Tatum’s book, first published in 1997, offers important sociocultural context about race and racism in the U.S. She demonstrates the impact that decades of racist policy and decision-making have had on the educational and developmental experiences of people, especially children, of color. This 20th anniversary, 2017 edition cited here offers commentary on post-Obama America and offers signs of hope for the future, despite an acknowledgement that not much has changed since this book’s original publication in 1997. 

2. Interrogate Your Positionality and (Un)conscious Biases

Self-education is an iterative and ongoing process. With that knowledge, it is critical that individuals begin with an interrogation of the self, critically reflecting on personal positionality and biases. Before asking students to do this work in your class, it’s important to have experience with the process first. You may even choose to do this interrogation with students to model the complexity (and, sometimes, discomfort) of this process. It involves becoming more aware of the choices you make and how your perspective and positionality in society impacts those choices. It’s also a process of interrogating your own values and beliefs: what is your vision of the “ideal” student? What biases might you carry? Becoming aware is the first step towards changing and shifting your perspective. 

The related sources below offer different approaches to this self-interrogation. Adichie’s TED talk challenges people to rethink the single stories they may hold about different groups of people, and the harm that those single (and often false) narratives cause. Ahmed, along with Ash et al., offer a wider administrative perspective, which can help with interrogating positionalities within a larger institutional context. Kernahan’s chapter, along with the Wheaton College Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning’s resource, offer specific strategies and actions to take during the critical self-reflection process. Lastly, LinkedIn Learning (available to all Columbia faculty, students, and staff) has courses related to unconscious bias and more that could be used personally or in the classroom.   

 

Related Sources: 

Adichie, C.N. (2009, July). The danger of a single story [Video]. TED. 
Describing her experience coming to the U.S. for college, Adichie underscores the importances of cultural awareness, and the critical risks that arise when people have single conceptions (or stories) about other groups of people. 

Ahmed, S. (2012). Speaking about racism. In S. Ahmed On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life (pp.  141-71). Duke U.P. 
Ahmed highlights the rhetorical construction of diversity and inclusion initiatives in organizational structures. Ahmed argues that the diversity initiatives of most institutions actually harm those reporting racist incidents, as they necessitate a “we don’t have a racism problem” response. In doing so, Ahmed argues, those who report these incidents become “the problem” rather than racism or the racist acts themselves.  

Ash, A. Hill, R., Risdon, S.N., & Jun, A. (2020). Anti-racism in higher education: A model for change. Race and Pedagogy Journal, 4(3), 1-35. 
In their article, Ash et. al (2020) propose a model for changing the demographics of institutional leadership. They suggest a top-down model requiring white higher administration to participate in critical self-reflection of their own Whiteness and privilege,  and the conscious and unconscious impact that has on their decision-making. They also envision a future where all the members of a campus community have been educated on racial inequity, and can work together to interrogate and dismantle the systemic racial inequity and inequality in higher education. 

Columbia University Information Technology. (n.d.). LinkedIn Learning
All Columbia students, faculty, and staff have access to online courses through LinkedIn Learning. While much of the focus of these courses is on business and other technological skills, there are some courses, like “Unconscious Bias” by Stacey Gordon or “Confronting Bias: Thriving Across Our Differences” by Vernā Myers and Arianna Huffington, related to developing awareness of unconscious biases and how to confront those. 

Kernahan, C. (2019). Getting yourself together: Developing a secure teacher identity. In C. Kernahan Teaching about race and racism in the college classroom: Notes from a white professor (pp. 71-98). West Virginia U.P. 
Kernahan’s book (which is wholly cited under item 3 below) offers concrete strategies and recommendations for teaching about race in higher education. Speaking from her own experience as a white professor, Kernahan notes the most common points of resistance, challenge, and difficulty. This particular chapter stresses the importance of individual teacher identity prior to classroom discussions. Kernahan highlights the need for critical and ongoing self-reflection and self-interrogation, while offering specific ways of doing this work. 

Wheaton College Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning (2020). Becoming an anti-racist educator
Drawing from much of the same literature cited here, this page from Wheaton College’s Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning presents “practices that help us become anti-racist.” These practices are further divided into individual practices focused on worldview and perspective, and more specific practices that educators can enact in their classrooms. Much like this current guide, the webpage supports these practices with further reading and resources for ongoing self-education. 

3. Address Curricular Gaps with Intentional Course Design

Moving beyond critical self-reflection, it is important to review course materials and content to ensure that your course design is intentionally and explicitly anti-racist. For a course where race is a content or curricular focus, whiteness should be decentered and multiple perspectives and voices should be represented throughout the course. For a course where race is not the content or curricular focus, there is an opportunity for disciplinary interrogation: what counts as valuable knowledge or ways of knowing in the discipline? Who makes those decisions? And, because of that, whose voices are left out of the discipline? 

The related sources below offer support at different stages of the course design process. Though not organized by stages of course design, “Anti-Racism and Allyship in the Classroom” provides further resources categorized by disciplinary focus. The work by Kernahan, Kishimoto, and Smith et al. offer strategies to be implemented throughout course design, as well as within the classroom itself. For instructors interested in enacting anti-racist policies at the university and beyond, Taylor et al.’s social justice syllabus tool offers three principles to apply to a syllabus as a both manageable, yet impactful, starting point.

 

Related Sources: 

Brown University Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.).  Effective teaching is anti-racist teaching. 
This webpage offers five “starting points” for enacting anti-racist teaching. These starting points connect to the Center’s conceptualization of what it means to be an anti-racist teacher. Some of the areas identified include: course goals, content, discussions, and assessments. Related to these areas, this resource offers sample language and examples from Brown’s teaching community. 

Imazeki, J. (2020). Anti-racism and allyship in the classroom
This document offers further support for anti-racism and allyship. Although not a single source itself, this document categorizes the resources by general topics (social justice, anti-racism, etc.) and then offers resources categorized by disciplinary focus (e.g.: Anthropology, Art, Economics, Health, etc.). 

Kernahan, C. (2019). Teaching about race and racism in the college classroom: Notes from a white professor. West Virginia U.P. 
Kernahan’s book emphasizes a race and racism teaching approach that centers compassion and care, while also remaining honest and critical about racism and race inequality in the U.S. Although she writes from a disciplinary focus in which race is the primary curricular focus, the book offers specific and actionable recommendations that could be adapted across classroom contexts. The chapters are presented in the different stages an instructor might encounter or experience, including: engagement with students, individual positionality, classroom community and expectations, and the overall course content. This structure, coupled with explicit attention paid to strategies and recommendations, present concrete ideas for instructors  to consider. 

Kishimoto, K. (2018). Anti-racist pedagogy: From faculty’s self-reflection to organizing within and beyond the classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 21(4), 540-554.
Kishimoto offers a comprehensible definition of anti-racist pedagogy–specifically one that includes classrooms where “race is not the subject matter” (pp. 540). Kishimoto’s article provides a five-step overview of an anti-racist approach to teaching and course delivery that instructors can interpret and take up in their own contexts. Most importantly, Kishimoto offers a view of anti-racist pedagogy apart from course content, empashizing that this approach is all about how one teaches. 

Taylor, S.D., Veri, M.J., Eliason, M., Hermoso, J.C.R., Bolter, N.D., & Van Olphen, J.E. (2019). The social justice syllabus design tool: A first step in doing social justice pedagogy. Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity (JCSCORE), 5(2), 133-66. 
Taylor et. al created a syllabus design tool to help instructors take a first actionable step in enacting a social justice pedagogy. They argue that the syllabus, as students’ first point of contact with a course and instructor, is both an ideal and crucial place to begin. Their tool  was designed with a social justice and inclusive course design framework, and relies on three core principles: relationship, community, and process. 

4. Foster a Compassionate Class Community and Meet Students Where They Are

It’s important to include opportunities for students to consider their own positionalities and biases to help foster their critical awareness; you may even choose to share your own experience with this critical reflection as a model for the process (see list item 2 above). Related to these opportunities, it is likewise important to foster a classroom environment that makes such reflection and interrogation possible. Students come from a variety of perspectives and experience, with a wide range of beliefs and understanding of a particular topic. No matter the content of the course, when bringing an explicitly anti-racist framework, consider starting by meeting your students where they’re at, and work from there. This may mean embracing difficult conversations and student resistance in the classroom. One way to start this process, and to navigate resistance is by engaging students in metacognitive or contemplative practices as it can help students identify their own starting points in the process. 

The related sources included below offer strategies to create a classroom environment that is conducive to engaging in and navigating  these discussions. From helping instructors respond to potential bias and microaggressions (specifically in the  online environment), to sharing strategies for other challenging classroom moments, these sources  are applicable across contexts.

Related Sources: 

Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning (2017). Inclusive Teaching: Principle 1
While the entirety of the Inclusive Teaching Guide is a valuable resource, principle 1 focuses on establishing and supporting a class climate for all students. While an inclusive classroom space is essential, it is only the first step. The classroom environment must be established for the (sometimes uncomfortable) work of critical self-reflection and awareness to begin. This page focused on principle 1 offers recommendations and strategies for fostering the necessary environment. 

Cora Learning. (2020, April 28). Responding to racial bias and microaggressions in the online environment [Video]. Youtube. 
This webinar, offered by Cora Learning and facilitated by Drs. Frank Harris III and J. Luke Wood, presents strategies for navigating racial bias and microaggressions in the online space. By establishing shared definitions and understanding and using specific case study examples, the webinar underscores the important role of instructors in addressing these acts in an appropriate and timely fashion. It also underscores the uniqueness of the online environment and the new considerations that such a space requires. 

Harbin, M.B., Thurber, A., & Bandy, J. (2019). Teaching race, racism, and racial justice: Pedagogical principles and classroom strategies for course instructors. Race and Pedagogy Journal, 4(1), 1-37.  
Harbin et al. open their article with an acknowledgement about the challenges and complexities of teaching about race, racism, and racial justice in the college classroom. Following this acknowledgement, Harbin et al. identify five of the most common challenges, and potential strategies for addressing these challenges across college classrooms. They balance the focus of these challenges, recognizing that they can arise from both the student and instructor perspectives. 

Smith, L., Kashubeck-West, S., Payton, G., & Adams, E. (2017). White professors teaching about racism: Challenges and rewards. The Counseling Psychologist, 45(5), 651-68. 
In their article, Smith et al. address the challenges that White professors may face when teaching about race and racism. While a number of the challenges identified relate to the process of critical self-reflection, Smith et al. offer strategies for navigating these challenges within the classroom. They further underscore the importance of White professors participating in multicultural initiatives broadly, and teaching about racism specifically, despite potential challenges or concerns. 

Supiano, B. (2020).  Teaching: When students resist learning about racism. Chronicle of Higher Education
This column from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s weekly “Teaching” newsletter presents an interview with Sociologist Jennifer Patrice Sims. In it, she shares her experience teaching courses about race and racism at several primarily white institutions, and offers strategies for instructors who may face resistance and pushback in the classroom. 

5. Engage the Wider Campus Community and Commit to Action Beyond the Classroom

When engaging in anti-racist pedgaogy, one important step is to work with students to identify “everyday things [they] can do” (Kishimoto, 2018, pp. 545). While engaging in classroom discussion and activities is certainly impactful for students, it’s equally important to help them identify the actions they can take in their lives beyond the classroom. One potential space for engagement beyond the classroom is the wider campus and institutional community. Connect students with available information and resources across campus to help them get involved more broadly; you may even engage these campus initiatives and resources to help students make connections with their in-class discussions and reflections. 

In July 2020, President Bollinger underscored Columbia’s commitment to anti-racism, calling upon the campus community to get involved. In addition to these commitments, the related sources below are Columbia-specific and offer just a few available pathways for members of the campus community to commit to anti-racist action beyond the classroom. 

 

 

Related Sources: 

Columbia Office of University Life. (n.d.). Resources for Promoting Racial Justice and Eliminating Anti-Black Violence
Columbia’s Office of University Life has curated a list of multimedia resources with the explicit purpose of eliminating anti-black violence and engaging in anti-racist practice. This collection is ongoing and continuously growing, and the Office actively encourages recommendations for additions. On the list, you will find suggested books, films, articles, podcasts, and more.  

Columbia School of Social Work. (n.d.). CSSW and Racial Justice
Members of Columbia’s School of Social Work (CSSW) are actively engaging in racial justice initiatives. This page offers a summary of some of these initiatives, as well as access to videos and further reading to learn more about the work being done. 

Foner, Eric (Faculty Sponsor). (n.d.). Columbia University and Slavery
This website, created by Columbia campus community members offers information about Columbia’s history with slavery. The site itself is broken down by historical periods, historical figures, and student research. 

Gottesman Libraries: Teachers College, Columbia University. (2020). Cafe Book Display: Teaching Anti-Racism – Gottesman Libraries
The Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College has a digital book display centered on anti-racism and creating an equitable and just society. From the introduction of the digital book display, “This display embraces a call for wider respect, acceptance, and appreciation of diversity in all its forms, particularly in educational settings, with race as a prime example in teaching for diverse democracy.” 

CTL Opportunities for the Columbia Teaching Community

Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning. (2020). Faculty Reading Group: Anti-racist pedagogy theory and practice. 
Have you enacted anti-racist practices in your teaching? Are you looking for resources and support for engaging in anti-racist pedgagogical theory and practice? Join the CTL and peer instructors committed to learning more about and incorporating anti-racist pedagogy and practice. Each month, participants will engage in a discussion around a shared text, as well as use the time and space to reflect on their own practice and classrooms. 

Fall 2020 Meeting Dates: 
Wed. 10/21 11-12pm via Zoom
Wed. 11/18 11-12pm via Zoom
Wed. 12/9 11-12pm via Zoom

References

Adichie, C.N. (2009, July). The danger of a single story [Video]. TED. 

Ahmed, S. (2012). Speaking about racism. In S. Ahmed On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life (pp.  141-71). Duke U.P. 

Ash, A. Hill, R., Risdon, S.N., & Jun, A. (2020). Anti-racism in higher education: A model for change. Race and Pedagogy Journal, 4(3), 1-35. 

Blakeney, A.M. (2011). Antiracist pedagogy: Definition, theory, purpose, and professional development. Journal of Curriculum & Pedagogy 2(1), 119-32.   

Bollinger, L.C. (2020, July 21). Columbia’s commitment to antiracism. [Announcement]. 

Brown University Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.).  Effective 

Teaching is Anti-Racist Teaching. 

Columbia Office of University Life. (2020, July 20). Columbia’s commitment to anti-racism.

—. (n.d.). Resources for Promoting Racial Justice and Eliminating Anti-Black Violence

Columbia School of Social Work. (n.d.). CSSW and Racial Justice

Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.) Accessibility Resource

—.  (n.d.). Contemplative Pedagogy. 

—. (2017). Inclusive Teaching: Principle 1

—. (n.d.). Inclusive Teaching Resources.

—. (2018). Metacognition.

Columbia University Information Technology. (n.d.). LinkedIn Learning. 

Cora Learning. (2020, April 28). Responding to racial bias and microaggressions in the online environment [Video]. Youtube. 

Foner, Eric (Faculty Sponsor). (n.d.). Columbia University and Slavery

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury. 

Gottesman Libraries: Teachers College, Columbia University. (2020). Cafe Book Display: 

Teaching Anti-Racism – Gottesman Libraries

Harbin, M.B., Thurber, A., & Bandy, J. (2019). Teaching race, racism, and racial justice: Pedagogical principles and classroom strategies for course instructors. Race and Pedagogy Journal, 4(1), 1-37.  

hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

Imazeki, J. (2020). Anti-racism and allyship in the classroom

Kendi, I.X. (2019).  How to be an antiracist. One World. 

Kernahan, C. (2019). Teaching about race and racism in the college classroom: Notes from a white professor. West Virginia U.P. 

Kishimoto, K. (2018). Anti-racist pedagogy: From faculty’s self-reflection to organizing within and beyond the classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 21(4), 540-554.

National Museum of African American History and Culture. (n.d.) Talking about Race.

Smith, L., Kashubeck-West, S., Payton, G., & Adams, E. (2017). White professors teaching about racism: Challenges and rewards. The Counseling Psychologist, 45(5), 651-68. 

Supiano, B. (2020).  Teaching: When students resist learning about racism. Chronicle of Higher Education

Tatum, B.D. (2017). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race. Basic Books.

Taylor, S.D., Veri, M.J., Eliason, M., Hermoso, J.C.R., Bolter, N.D., & Van Olphen, J.E. (2019). The social justice syllabus design tool: A first step in doing social justice pedagogy. Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity (JCSCORE), 5(2), 133-66. 

Wheaton College Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning (2020). Becoming an anti-racist educator

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