Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Racial Awareness

A hallmark of effective teaching is racial awareness, where recognition of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the classroom informs teaching strategies. Instructors can exhibit cultural consciousness, use inclusive teaching strategies, incorporate racial diversity into their courses, and moderate productive class discussions about race where relevant. A body of research confirms the ways that microaggressions in particular can affect academic performance (Sue, 2013), and instructors can consider ways to develop an inclusive class climate that respects all persons in the classroom.

Instructors often lack resources for approaching diverse classrooms or teaching diversity in the classroom. A variety of factors war against inclusivity too, including in-group bias, which favors students looking or coming from a similar culture as the instructor (Goodman, 2013). Reflective teaching habits and awareness of one’s own attitude towards others can treat these unconscious issues. Too, when strong emotion clashes against the traditional nature of college discourse - polite, academic, and color-blind - conversation can go sour fast (Sue 2013). Instructors can consider a variety of examples and strategies to skillfully handle discussions of race, while strengthening theirs and their students’ knowledge of racial and cultural diversity.

Examples

  • An instructor includes classroom policies in the syllabus that underscore respect, attentive listening, civil dialogue, honesty, and patience, regardless of background or appearance. The instructor addresses these policies on the first day, emphasizing that human worth informs intellectual exploration in class.
  • An English instructor holds equally high expectations for all students. He is not surprised when a black male writes exceptionally well or a latinx student speaks articulately in class.
  • A mathematics instructor includes a diversity statement in her syllabus explaining her personal background, her previous experiences with diversity, and her field’s lack of women and minorities. She acknowledges potential biases and/or lack of racial literacy while reaffirming her commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
  • A history instructor writes a diversity statement for his syllabus in which he acknowledges that the curriculum content may elicit strong emotional reactions during conversations around race. He outlines some community guidelines for having respectful dialogues on these potentially controversial topics.
  • A psychology instructor reviews her PowerPoint slides to make sure racial representation is equitable and meaningful. She insures her lecture examples utilize different cultural contexts.
  • A political science instructor emphasizes the value of experiential knowledge in interpretation and understanding legal cases. When a minority student adds cultural context to a discussion of a particular case, the instructor affirms the student’s contribution.
  • When a majority student makes a well-intentioned but offensive comment about a minority group, the instructor steps in to turn it into a teaching moment. The instructor does not shut down the conversation or try to change topics.

Recommendations

  • Reflect on Perspective - Instructors can recognize their implicit biases and remediate any racial illiteracy, continuing their personal education on race issues while staying attuned to racial interactions in the classroom.
  • Consider Disciplinary Traditions - Instructors can consult discipline-specific resources for scholarship on inclusive teaching in their field, or look to key journals for discussions of historic issues, essays, and individuals who pioneered new approaches within the Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM.
  • Improve Representation - For many disciplines that involve the study, thought, or expression of human beings (history, English, philosophy, anthropology), traditional or canonical bodies of text and practice can remain culturally homogenous while continuing to hold sway in the discipline. Instructors can integrate diverse cultures and peoples into curriculum content, ensuring that a variety of perspectives and representations are available in readings, case studies, and class examples. This approach can help all students recognize and imagine themselves within course content.
  • Address Racial Tension - Instructors can responsibly address racial tensions when 
they arise in class, and take an active role in moderating the resulting “race talk” dialogue. Instructors can consult how to handle Hot Moments in the Classroom (courtesy Harvard’s Bok Center).
    • During race talk, instructors may exhibit openness and acknowledgement (regardless of race) of their own biases. When such truthfulness and vulnerability is modeled by an authority figure for students, students may be more likely to be honest and less likely to deny their own biases (Sue, 2013).
    • Instructors can acknowledge early on that feelings are an integral part of race talk. Instructors can express appreciation and validation to members in the class who make themselves vulnerable. This approach involves controlling the process, protocols, and ethos of a racial dialogue, rather than the content.
  • Develop Responsive Pedagogy - Instructors may consider adopting culturally responsive pedagogy (also known as culturally relevant, congruent, reflective, centered, sensitive, mediated, synchronized, and contextualized pedagogy). With this approach, four key elements — curricula, learning communities, cross-cultural communication, and instruction — are designed to be reflective of learners’ diverse identities and values (Quaye, 2014).
    • Curricula involve the active incorporation of readings, assignments, engagement activities, and other materials that reflect the different cultural backgrounds and heritages of learners. Instructors try to avoid tokenizing people of color and their impact on society by discussing diversity throughout the course content, not only in certain sections or unit. 
    • Learning communities refer to the structuring of the classroom environment so that students must engage with peers who hold differing opinions and identities. 
    • Cross-cultural communication stresses the need for race talk to be normalized and to occur both in class and informal spaces around campus.
    • Instruction simply suggests that instructors use effective and innovative teaching strategies, such as active learning and effective class discussion, to engage diverse learners and grapple with the dominant modes in which students have been socialized in classroom contexts, e.g. passive receivers of knowledge, individual competition, and avoidance of race talk (Quaye, 2014). 

Additional Resources

Specific Readings

  • Harper, SR and Davis III CHF. (2016). Eight Actions to Reduce Racism in College Classrooms. Academe: 30.
  • hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress. New York, NY: Routledge Press.
  • Steele, CM and Aronson J. (1995). Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(5): 797-811.
  • Steele, CM. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. WW Norton & Co., Inc.
  • Tanner, KD. (2013). Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity. CBE–Life Sciences Education, 12: 322-331.

Journals on Teaching and Race

  • Diverse: Issues In Higher Education - Magazine of issues affecting Asian Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians, people with disabilities, seniors, LGBTQIA, veterans and other underrepresented groups in higher education.
  • Race, Ethnicity and Education - Peer-reviewed journal on racism and race inequality in education. Provides a focal point for international scholarship, research and debate publishing original and challenging research that explores the dynamics of race, racism and ethnicity in education policy, theory and practice.
  • Radical Pedagogy -  Interdisciplinary, peer reviewed, academic journal devoted to the analysis of teaching and learning as well as the institutional, political, and social aspects of education that impact critical pedagogical theory and practice.
  • Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy - Peer-reviewed interdisciplinary forum for pedagogical scholarship exploring intersections of identities, power, and social justice. The journal features a range of approaches, from theoretical articles to creative and experimental accounts of pedagogical innovations, from teachers and scholars from all areas of education. 
  • The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education - An information source by and for Hispanic educators with a main goal of demystifying the entire higher education experience for Hispanic students and their families.
  • The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education - Resource providing racial statistics on an institution-by-institution basis. Persuades American colleges and universities to more fully integrate their campuses.
  • The Journal of Negro Education - Refereed scholarly periodical founded at Howard University in 1932 to fill the need for a scholarly journal that would identify and define the problems that characterized the education of Black people in the United States and elsewhere. Provides a forum for analysis and solutions. Serves as a vehicle for sharing statistics and research on a national basis.

References

Goodman CC and Redfield SE. (2013). A Teacher Who Looks Like Me. Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development, 27(1): 105.

Quaye, SJ. (2014). Facilitating Dialogues About Racial Realities. Teachers College Record, 116: 1-42.

Sue, DW. (2013). Race Talk: The Psychology of Racial Dialogues. American Psychologist, 68(8): 663-672.