Learning Antiracism

This week, the Board of Governors of the State University System sent a letter to the university community that began with the following message:

The shocking and horrific event of this past week in which George Floyd lost his life in Minneapolis, at the hands of sworn police officers, has both angered and saddened all Americans. Similar tragic and senseless acts involving African Americans in recent years are particularly painful as there have been far too many other examples of racism and violence against people of color from all across our nation. It is time for everyone to examine the inequities in our society, recognize the conditions that have created those inequities, and work to repair the racial divide and restore equal justice for all Americans.

The State University System of Florida respects and appreciates all races, diverse cultures, nationalities, and communities and is committed to addressing ongoing societal problems and enhancing diversity and inclusion.

As our university leaders have done, we should also address the events taking place around us, so our students will know that we care. Many of you have already done so this week. If you haven’t, and you’re not sure what to say, you can admit that, and explain that you also don’t want to pretend history isn’t unfolding beyond the classroom; you know they are affected, and you care about them. People across the country and around the world are expressing rage and grief at the injustice, and you can tell them you share it. We know that injustice is structural in our country and our culture, and that it has shaped all our lives, whether we have been aware of it or not.

For many students, it may be impossible to concentrate now, when they’ve had to watch people who look like them and their relatives be murdered, over and over, in public and on social media. Many students are experiencing trauma. You can check on their well-being and share your care and concern — but please don’t single anyone out. Some traumatized students may not be able to complete coursework right now, while others may prefer to immerse themselves in learning and make our courses a refuge. Our students don’t owe us a window into their experiences, but we can let them know that we are listening, and that we want to help in any way that we can. We can also share resources on campus:

In addition to communicating awareness and care to our students, we can all take up the work outlined by the Board of Governors — examining racial inequities, opposing racism, working for justice, valuing diversity, practicing inclusion — in different ways in our various roles: as citizens, as scholars, as community members, and as teachers.

In her article, “How to be an Antiracist Educator,” Dena Simmons wrote, “We cannot afford to wallow in our discomfort regarding issues of race and equity … Educators have an obligation to confront the harm of racism. That is why we must commit to becoming antiracist educators and to preparing our young people to be antiracist, too.”

To support you in this urgent work, we are hosting a faculty reading group on the book How To Be An Antiracist by National Book Award Winner Ibram X. Kendi. (We are now opening a second section, meeting Wednesdays 2 – 4 p.m., due to popular demand.) Like all powerful learning, this work benefits from community, with colleagues to support and challenge us. We are also available to work with you one-on-one or in groups to discuss and apply ideas from any of the following resources, which we hope you will join us in exploring:

If you’d like support in adopting antiracist and inclusive teaching practices, or trauma-informed pedagogies, please email us at pro-teaching@fsu.edu. We look forward to working with you.