Celebrating Black History Month in 2021

Beginning with Black History

Across the country and at all academic levels, educators are celebrating Black History Month with their students. These observances are not only opportunities to showcase the work of Black scholars and luminaries in each of our disciplines, as we suggested last year, but also to rethink American history and culture with Black people’s stories and perspectives centralized.

The 1619 Project is an excellent example of how such reframing can transform and enhance our understanding of ourselves and our country, as well as the work we do in our disciplines and in our teaching:

The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

The Pulitzer Center, which raises awareness of underreported global issues, hosts a 1619 Project Curriculum that includes lesson ideas and related resources for students of all levels, including college. You can explore the resources there, or you can contribute by sharing your own lessons developed from the 1619 Project.

Most of us were only exposed to Eurocentric curricula, or curricula that centered white stories and perspectives, as students, so we’re likely to pass those along unless we make the conscious decision to examine biases in education and depart from the status quo. Inspired by the 1619 Project, which invites and challenges us to ask what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year, we can raise similar questions in all of our disciplines.

What would it mean to centralize Black stories and experiences in medicine? What would it mean to centralize Black stories and experiences in civil engineering? What would it mean to centralize Black perspectives in philosophy or in literary theory?

If thinking about the answers to such questions feels like “turning the map upside-down” to you, that’s okay. It’s a wonderful way to better understand and empathize with colleagues and students for whom the map is almost always upside-down in the academy.

If you’d like to build a new framework for your course—one that moves away from the white perspective as an unexamined default—one way to start is by introducing the work, writing, ideas, theories, etc. of Black scholars, or the stories of Black leaders and communities, earlier in the course, as the starting place or foundation, rather than in a way that seems more secondary or alternative.

And if you’d like to explore ideas for thinking about and celebrating Black History Month with your students, we encourage you to read this article, in which four FSU experts provide more context and perspective. Their words inspired us, and we hope they’ll inspire you, too.


Assignment Design Workshop

Friday, Feb. 12th | 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. on Zoom | Sign up to attend

For support in crafting assignments—projects, papers, exercises, experiences, etc.—that engage students in the kinds of thinking you’d like for them to do, and that help them to produce the kinds of work you’d like to see, please sign up for this hands-on workshop. We can help you revise existing assignments or devise new ones, and we will share resources for describing assignments in ways that are transparent for your students.