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REIMAGINING: Faculty/Staff and Curricular Change 

BY: ISIS AMUSA

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"AUx clearly has not helped the racist and sexist climate at AU. Like every other Black male, I was the only one in my class and once a week had to listen to a white professor tell me how I'm oppressed. It's time to get rid of AUx."

"The AUx faculty instructors need to have more race sensitivity training." 

"AUx a class that is basically supposed to teach freshmen about dismantling inequalities is instead a class in which Black and POC students (if any) are forced to educate their white peers on why something is racist. AUx had to be the biggest waste of my time...How are we forced to take a class that encourages us  to dismantle racist institutions yet our very own school is the said racist institution." 

One of the most prevalent themes in the anonymous stories shared on the @blackatamericanuniversity page was racially charged interactions with professors and burdening curricula. 

Several posts highlighted the AU Core curriculum, in particular, stating how emotionally damaging it can be for students of color in white-majority classrooms. 

This summer, First Year Advisor Sarah Jones became the co-chair of the new AUx2 working group to redesign and restructure the AUx2 curriculum. 

"We know that the AUx2 classroom can be very tokenizing," Jones said. "I had a Black woman student who came to me and was like ‘Sarah, I can't, it's traumatic.' You know your heart breaks in that moment...that was one of the things that was like ‘we need to change this.' " 

Unlike the former AUx2 Council, the working group is composed of six advisors, two instructional designers, an AUx program assistant and the AUx program manager. Members all have experience teaching the course, are familiar with classroom dynamics and have witnessed the harm the class can cause. Jones said instructors previously had little input in the curriculum.  

Jones and AUx Program Manager Izzi Stern also said they prioritized advisors with prior antiracism training. At the same time, Jones recognizes that none of them are experts on antiracism, that antiracist work is a continuum and highlights the need to constantly pull in external materials. 

Jones said these same sentiments were supported and pushed by the administration as well. 

"In an email [President] Burwell sent to the AU community, she noted that AUx will be incorporating antiracist pedagogy into the classroom and looking at it from an antiracist lens to really speak to what's going on in the world today," Jones said.  

The course will emphasize critical antiracist texts and decenter discussions on personal experiences in courses with white students. Instead, Jones said they want to start promoting dialogue on critical theories of race, intersectionality, racism and how they influence the systems and structures of this nation. 

This will manifest in the structure of the classroom as well. 

The course will use the antiracist practice of allowing students to self-assess their engagement with the course, participate in critical self-reflection and enter dialogue surrounding their learning process with instructors, Jones said.       

Additionally, a new Student Advisory Board will allow students to collaborate with advisors on curriculum design and disrupt the usual hierarchical structure. The board will collect feedback from the greater student body and offer suggestions on affinity spaces and programming. 

Lastly, the working group said they are adamant about adding more voluntary affinity sections for Black students. 

"It'll be a space where Black students can see themselves in the curriculum and see just Black students...and see how their experiences are different from the others. The Black experience is not a monolith," Jones said. "You can heal together as well, that is one thing I would love to see these Black affinity sections achieve." 

Jones said this healing will not only support Black students, but advisors and instructors as well, as they face similar racial dynamics in the classroom. She often reflects on an experience where white students asked her opinion on reading aloud the n-word in books. 

"All their eyes turned to me and I realized in that moment, I was the only Black person in the room," she said. "And I was like, wow this is exactly what our Black students have to deal with at a PWI. It's even more intense because people think that they can debate your identity and that's not okay. It's always an emotional conversation for me, I always choke up." 

Throughout this process, Jones said she has also had difficult conversations with white leadership, putting her job on the line to advocate for Black students. Luckily, she said she feels increasingly supported by the administration. 

"I can say that my relationship with [Dean Jessica Waters] has grown a lot stronger," Jones said. "She listens to me as a Black woman...she knows that it shouldn't be her space to kind of be in the meeting all the time but she always offers to come in if she needs to be there. She also poses the hard questions so that when we go up into presenting this to the Faculty Senate we know how to maneuver." 

Jones and the working group are now in "a race against the clock." The group is hoping to implement the curriculum by next semester but it must be approved by the AU Core Council first.  

As the group races to implement the new curriculum, Fanta Aw, vice president of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence, acknowledges this is not enough. 

"It can't stop at one course," she said. "We need to do it in such a way that...as you move through the curriculum, wherever you are...you will find that these topics are continuing and that the curriculum will reflect that." 

Aw said she wants racial and antiracist lenses to permeate through every major. This will create a sense of belonging for students of color while sensitizing white students to "the everyday reality and every day lives of communities of color and how race is a critical fundamental dimension of that," as Aw said. 

Peter Starr, acting provost and chief academic officer, along with faculty fellows from the Center for Teaching Research and Learning are in the process of training faculty members in all curricula. Aw said this will encompass promoting inclusive classrooms, discussing issues of race and intersectionality and breaking down curricula from book choices to learning objectives. 

The administration said they are also prioritizing the hiring of more faculty and staff of color. Aw is especially focused on AU's Counseling Center and making multicultural counseling services a hallmark. Though she says she is proud of the already existing counselors of color and their white peers trained in racial trauma work, Aw recognizes the value of students of color speaking to more people who share their experiences. 

"In many ways it validates your existence, it validates your sense of presence," Aw said. "That's one of the reasons why, for me, it's so important to build relationships with every single student I can, understanding representation really does matter." 

Additionally, the administration is working to expand the ethnic studies program. 

"You have Sybil Roberts, [director of African American and African Diaspora Studies], who's fantastic, but Sybil can't do it by herself," Aw said. "It's not even fair for Sybil to be asked to do it by herself." 

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The administration recently hired David Vazquez to carry the Latinx studies program and two additional teaching faculty to promote Indigenous studies. Though Aw understands this is just a start, she hopes these faculty can collaborate to analyze how their curricula overlap and exchange what's needed.

That said, Aw necessitates all students take these courses, not just members of those communities, and actively engage with redesigned curricula. 

"Students have to take these classes," she said. "They have to have an intellectual curiosity to understand that their full breadth of education is incomplete without understanding the breadth of history. In order to be able to stand in line and fight for this, you really have to educate yourselves and you're in a university where this is the time to get that full education." 

As the administration works to integrate institutional support for students of color and alleviate extra burdens during these challenging times, Aw says she's ready to "pick up the pace."


Read the next section, Administration and Institutional Change.


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