Image of the books Stuck Improving by Decoteau J. Irby and White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

When sociology instructor Rachel Wilczewski introduced her Race and Ethnicity course last fall, she was a little apprehensive. She developed the course because it is a standard sociology offering at other institutions and the course transfers well. Moreover, it was important to offer the class at NMC given some highly publicized racial incidents at local schools. But Rachel said she wasn’t sure what to expect given the political climate and some pushback she’s had in courses when race is discussed. 


However, student reaction to the curriculum and their participation in discussions was overwhelmingly positive, Rachel said. Students were eager to learn and make changes. As one student wrote, “I previously noted myself as a reasonably well-educated person regarding race and other cultures; however, after this class I now think I knew much less than I thought. In fact, I think I now have a lot more to learn.”


English instructor Melissa Sprenkle, who tackles racial topics in her Shakespeare class, has also had a positive response to her anti-racist workshop on Othello. Teaching the play can be fraught because while many of Shakespeare’s plays include racialized language, “Othello specifically puts that discourse at the center of attention,” Melissa explained. 


But an anti-racism frame helps students understand how historical and contemporary audiences approach the play and invites them to think critically about the media they consume. “Students said they enjoyed the Othello unit the most because it helped make Shakespeare seem more relevant for thinking about contemporary issues,” Melissa said.


Rachel and Melissa shared their experiences at the March 3 Friday Forum. They offered encouragement and advice for tackling tough topics and also shared tips from John Zachman, who covers a range of contentious issues in his Contemporary Ethical Dilemmas course. John’s ground rules for class discussion say that inquiry should be sincere — don’t ask a question if you are going to provide the answer yourself — and that no group of people should be depicted consistently as the evil other. They share their slide presentation here. 

For faculty interested in continuing the conversation on race in the curriculum,  Rachel and Melissa recommend two books: White Fragility and Stuck Improving: Racial Equity and School Leadership. CIE will have these books available at the April 7 Friday Forum and will also take orders. Melissa and Rachel will lead book discussions next school year.