203. Critical Race Theory

Multiple states have introduced legislation banning the discussion of critical race theory at all levels of public education. In this episode Cyndi Kernahan and Moira Lynch join us to explore what these bills actually say, the motivations behind them, and the impact this has on teaching in higher education. Cyndi is a Psychology Professor and the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. She is also the author of Teaching about Race and Racism in the College Classroom: Notes from a White Professor. Moira is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics, Geography, and International Studies, also at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls.



John: Multiple states have introduced legislation banning the discussion of critical race theory at all levels of public education. In this episode we explore what these bills actually say, the motivations behind them, and the impact that this has on teaching in higher education.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together, we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.


Rebecca: Our guests today are Cyndi Kernahan, and Moira Lynch. Cyndi is a Psychology Professor and the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. She is also the author of Teaching about Race and Racism in the College Classroom: Notes from a White Professor. Moira is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics, Geography, and International Studies, also at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. Welcome Moira, and welcome back, Cyndi.

Cyndi: Thank you.

Moira: Thanks for having us.

John: Our teas today are…

Cyndi: I’m drinking blueberry green tea.

Rebecca: Oh, that sounds good!

Moira: I had English breakfast and I left it downstairs.

Rebecca: Oops. [LAUGHTER] I have Earl Grey although Moira, don’t worry, I came initially with just a cup of hot water and I was like, oops, that’s not tea.

John: And I have ginger peach green tea. Is your blueberry green tea the Tea Republic one?

Cyndi: It is, I love them so much.

John: I do too. It’s really good.

Cyndi: And I took a page from you guys. I have to say we’re opening our CTL space officially next Tuesday. We were supposed to open last year but pandemic, and I took a page from y’all: I bought a kettle and tea because you guys inspired me. {LAUGHTER] So we will have a tea maker at the UW River Falls CTL space.

Rebecca: Representing, awesome!

John: Nice! We actually, I should note, have three. We have two tea kettles and we have a Breville tea maker, which will set the temperature and the strength of the tea for each of the major types of tea.

Cyndi: Of course you do.

John: We’ve been doing this for a while now.

Rebecca: Yeah, hashtag tea nerds.

John: We’ve invited you here, to talk about a column you wrote for the Cap Times on a bill that would ban the discussion of critical race theory in K-12 and higher education in the state of Wisconsin. What has happened with this bill? Has it passed or is it still under discussion?

Moira: This is a bill that… there’s actually two parts to it… There’s a Bill 409, which is targeting universities and colleges in Wisconsin. And then there’s a Bill 411, which is targeting K through 12 schools. And it hasn’t passed. It was proposed in June, just this past June… 2021. And then they only recently had a public hearing, a pretty divisive and rancorous public hearing, on August 11th on the bill, but no, it hasn’t gone to a vote yet. So the bill, basically, is banning particular concepts from the classroom. That’s its intent, including ideas like that one race or sex is superior to another, a person is inherently racist by virtue of his or her race or sex, a person should feel guilty for past acts committed by people of his or her race or sex. And there’s a few other pieces of language, but also it includes language that schools that would engage in instruction, that aligns with these ideas, would lose 10% of their annual state funding. There’s a couple other pieces to the bills, too, that are important to mention about ideas around educators publishing their curriculum, making it public and that being monitored in some form if this bill should pass. And that would be at the college and university level, but also at the K through 12 level. It also has some language on training. So institutions that are training on diversity and inclusion, for example, would be subject to some of these same ideas about what they can and cannot talk about in their training.

Cyndi: EDUCAUSE is keeping up with this, a lot of places are keeping up with this, I think the Chronicle of Higher Ed has a map as well. And there are 12 states that have passed something like this. And they all look a little different. So, Wisconsin’s looks very similar, I should say, because there’s a strategy here, but there are 12 states who have passed things like this, and there are variations on them. There’s more that seemed to be focused on the K-12 system, but many of them are focused on higher ed as well, like Florida really stands out as being very focused on their higher education system. So you can go and look, I think the EDUCAUSE article is really good, I can send that to y’all, but it sort of shows you like the map and where each state is in terms of where these bans are at. So this is a pretty serious issue going into the Fall semester.

John: We can share a link to that in the show notes. This has been a phenomenon we’ve been seeing a lot recently. We saw it over the previous four years in the White House with many federal agencies and we’re seeing it again in lots of red states, it appears. Why is this happening?

Cyndi: Yeah, I can start. I don’t think it’s any accident that a year ago, we were still talking about… I mean we still are talking about… the protests around George Floyd and the summer that we had that was so remarkable in terms of how many people went out and protested. So I think this is a response to that. That’s what it feels like to me. And it’s an ongoing response. We see this when you look at the history of race and racism, where there’s movement and backlash, movement and backlash. Carol Anderson writes about this really well. Many people write about it well, but that book in particular, White Rage, is a great source where she talks about that sort of movement forward and the backlash, and so I think it’s part of that. I think it’s always been part of a larger political strategy too, which I know Moira can speak better to than I can around using this in terms of gaining votes. I know you can speak to that better than me.

Moira: Yeah, I would agree with Cindy, that I think there’s a lot of backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement. And a lot of times the legislation even brings that in to the conversation or you hear that at school board meetings a lot in terms of what people perceive that movement to be, and whether they see it as a threat or not. And that often goes along with what people are speaking about at school board meetings and in college university settings around this type of legislation. But it is definitely stemming from a political strategy, in the sense that a Conservative activist, Christopher Rufo, spoke on Fox News last summer, talking about critical race theory in particular and how it was kind of this insidious element or form of indoctrination that was really moving through the education system. And that got the attention of President Trump. And he wrote a new Executive Order in which you can see much of the language in the legislation across the states, as Cindy described, taking their language directly from the Trump executive order, making sure that this was prohibited as much as possible in the educational setting. Biden has since rescinded that Executive Order since coming into office. But this is definitely a strategy that Conservative activists acknowledge and others also acknowledge ahead of the 2022 elections and beyond. And so there are different folks who are… you’ll see in conservative political party members… that are making statements, people who are interested in running for president eventually, that are definitely taking a stand on this and making sure that their voice is heard on this legislation in their own state or in other spaces. And so it’s definitely kind of part and parcel of how cultural wars have played out in the past in politics in which parties use a particular cultural hot point hot button issue to rally voters and constituents toward them on a particular cause.

Rebecca: In the past year, we’ve seen many campuses really pushed towards diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, whatever those are, and whatever those look like on a particular campus, they’re different, but there’s definitely a movement in that direction throughout higher ed. how is this impacting that movement? What are the long-term implications of this kind of legislation happening across multiple states in these moves to really have equity in higher education, and really, in K-12, too?

Cyndi: I think it complicates it, and anybody who reads the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed on a regular basis knows that there’s always been backlash against higher ed, the idea that what we’re teaching is indoctrination or somehow wrong and brainwashing students, liberalizing students, that that idea is not new. I think what this does is it just sort of raises the stakes even more. As someone who teaches about this and works on initiatives like that on my campus level, I’m very involved in all of that work. And so it feels like we’re under even more scrutiny. So there have been incidents on this campus. For example, over the summer, there was a website that was inadvertently linked to our website, and it generated a lot of controversy on the right. And there was a lot of pushback. And so there were people calling the campus and saying, why are you linking to this website? We shouldn’t have necessarily been linking to that website, and again, it was an inadvertent mistake. But it was so clear to me over the summer, when this happened, like “Wow, people are really watching closely.” And so I think that’s part of what complicates that work is that there’s just going to be a lot of scrutiny, a lot of watching what we’re doing. And we already know, and this happens on a lot of campuses, that campus web pages are looked at closely, what instructors are teaching are looked at really closely. I thought the situation at Boise State was really instructive. If you all followed tha, where the Idaho State Legislature took funding away from Boise State and gave it to another Idaho college because allegedly there was this incident where a white student was shamed in an online class around racism. But when you actually dug into it, that student was not shamed by the instructor. There was some back and forth between the student and other students in the chat. It was a synchronous session, but the instructor actually handled it beautifully. The instructor checked in on the student to make sure they were okay. She saw that there was some conflict between students and handled it really, really well, I thought, from my read of the reporting of that. But that incident of allegedly a student being shamed was sent to a legislator who then, just based on that hearsay, said, “Okay, we’re taking $400,000 [I think it was] away from the school.” So I think the scrutiny is part of what really complicates this and makes it harder to do that work.

Moira: I think one of the problems, to your question, Rebecca, about what kind of impact too, is the critical race theory has become this catch-all term for anything that is taught in K through 12 settings or colleges and universities that’s related to race, anti-racism, systemic racism, racial injustice. I mean, the list goes on and on. And as Cyndi has said, these courses have existed for a long time. There’s a lot of work on this in different settings and different forms. So there’s a lot of confusion about what critical race theory is, and is not. And most of the laws that have been passed and that are even being considered don’t even have that term in the law, or if they do, it’s not accurately characterized. So it’s become this vessel to control how race and racism is taught in these settings. And that’s a very powerful instrument. And I want to give you an example, there’s a website called criticalrace.org in which Conservative activists are basically keeping tabs on everything that they can find that colleges and universities teach or had programming on or training related to race, anti-racism, etc. But when you go through different colleges and you look at what they take notes on, it’s not critical race theory… Is there a course? Yes or no? They actually just list anything that has race or anti-racism in it. So it could be a speaker that spoke two years ago, it could be a program for first years on anti-racism, it could be a lecture, it could be training, you can see it’s just this catch-all list that they are collecting to identify a problem. But what’s not clear is what the problem is, in terms of collecting this list of information from a college or university. It’s not clear in this website, for example, what is problematic about any of this programming or how it fits into this larger narrative of it being indoctrination.

John: Is there any evidence that critical race theory is actually being taught anywhere in the K through 12 environment?

Cyndi: Not that I know of, this is just from listening to reports about it, but it wouldn’t make sense for it to be taught in a K-12 setting. I mean, even in undergraduate classes, I’ve never formally taught critical race theory. And part of what’s confusing about it, and I do think it’s sort of useful, I guess, as a catch-all term for the folks who want to stop any discussion of racism, because it’s like this projection screen that a lot of stuff gets thrown on. I mean, really, if you look at the definition of critical race theory, part of what’s so complicated about it is it’s not one thing, it’s really a framework. So it’s a way of looking at things like laws and policies across a variety of domains: health care, education, the justice system, etc., and saying, “Let’s look at where there are racial disparities and disadvantage and let’s try to understand that.” So it’s looking at those things with a critical lens. One example I might give from work that we do is I was thinking about a financial aid policy of verification, I’m sure you all are familiar with this, that ensnares tons of students, including lots of my students, where you have to go through and provide more documentation to be able to receive your financial aid. A critical race perspective on that would say, “How is that happening? How is that disproportionately harming students of color?” …because it is, and there’s research that shows that it is. So that’s what CRT is, is it’s looking at things from a critical framework and saying, “Let’s look at it and see the ways in which racism is operating here that we might not recognize, because that’s one of the sets of assumptions is that it’s systemic, it’s not just individual.” Race is a social construction. Depending on what source you look at, there’s like five or seven different assumptions that are made within the framework of CRT. So, it really wouldn’t make sense for it to be taught to little kids. And then even at the college level, you might not necessarily teach in that way. I mean, I know most of what I spend my time teaching are really those core assumptions, which are understanding how race is a social construction and what that means. Understanding what it means that racism is systemic, and not just individual. And I think when you drill down, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, what I think people really want to ban is feelings. They want to ban people’s feelings around this. So there’s a lot of emphasis, if you listen to the way legislators talk about this, they’re very worried about white people being embarrassed or shamed. And so the idea is, let’s not teach about this in this way in which we think about it as this large encompassing framework, because there’s the assumption that that will make white students feel uncomfortable and embarrassed and ashamed to be white, when I would argue if you’re teaching well, and most people I know who teach this teach very well, that’s not a pedagogical technique that we use. We don’t want to shame people because they don’t learn in that way. And so that’s what’s, at least for me, as one who’s taught about this for so long, is so maddening. It’s like you’re mischaracterizing the way we teach and also mischaracterizing what it is that we’re teaching. It’s not critical race theory. It’s before tha,t just trying to get on the same page of what race is what racism actually is.

Rebecca: It sounds to me like many of the objectives of people who are pursuing this legislation is to just ban discussion of racism, and particular history. And I know that even when I was a student, many perspectives weren’t taught in K-12. So is it a return to a status quo of teaching a particular perspective and only offering that perspective and pushing against other perspectives being offered? Or is it something else?

Moira: I teach international relations and international relations, as a field, was silent for decades on race. So you just didn’t see people publish about it, Textbooks didn’t cover it. It’s just this gaping hole until more recently, textbooks have chapters on race and world politics or more chapters on post-colonial theory, for example. And some of that is also very American-centric. The way Americans taught it in universities was very narrow. However, in other parts of the world race was very much part and parcel of how you would learn about International Relations at the college level. And I talk about that with my students, because when we read about recent world politics, and we look at post-colonial theory, it’s incredibly helpful for them to be able to see historical patterns and systems that have shaped foreign policy decisions, that have shaped why a country’s development has stayed at a lower level as opposed to a higher level. It gives them tools to understand and make sense of some of the outcomes we see that don’t always make sense, especially in places very far from here that are very hard to understand if you have only lived United States and don’t have a lot of context for what’s happening in other parts of the world. So even just being able to explain really diverse patterns of development, conflict, stability in the African continent, is something that the colonial lens, and the colonial period helps them to grasp and make sense of particular outcomes. And we couldn’t do that unless we talked about racial oppression. We talked about colonialization and the slave trade. We couldn’t make sense of that, without that context of institutional racism. To your point about are we going backwards, in that field of international relations, I’m only recently seeing this great movement forward. And actually, textbooks are now a lot more inclusive of these histories than they used to be and so I’m very sensitive to this, because I can see it just moving away. And this omission and this silencing could really have a huge impact on an international relations course.

Cyndi: Yeah, it definitely seems like we’re just getting started and actually including other people in a lot of our curriculum. I think about psychology and the ways in which so much has been left out. And it’s just now starting to be included. So again, I think this is kind of that backlash piece that we see where finally this kind of history and work is being included. And it’s like “No, no, no, wait, wait, wait, we don’t want that.” And, you know, we’ve seen this before. The Tucson School District, they attempted to ban ethnic studies that was ultimately overturned. But it took many, many years to get that changed. So I think that’s what we’re seeing, there’s movement forward, it’s a little bit more inclusive, there’s more focus on it. And it’s interesting, because the backlash is so swift, even to just a little bit of inclusion. We still know… the Southern Poverty Law Center put out a report… I think it’s been a couple of years ago now, looking at the K-12 system showing that really slavery is not taught well, for most American students, it’s not taught particularly well. But even just a little bit of inclusion has sparked this intense backlash. And again, I keep thinking about how so much of it is focused on feelings. It’s very interesting. We don’t want anybody to feel bad. And there’s this assumption that students will feel bad if they learn, essentially, the truth about American history and American present. They just really irks me as an instructor, because that’s not what I see. Students like learning this for the most part. I mean, I have some resistance. But for the most part, students are grateful. The number one comment I always get is, “Why did no one tell me any of this?” And so what I see is that they’re grateful to learn the truth and the flaws and the messiness of our history and who we are as people. They’re grateful for that for the most part.

Rebecca: I would think the most tricky feelings are actually the ones of being betrayed or like, lied to.

Cyndi: Often, there’s a lot of guilt. I’ve talked about that a lot. There’s a lot of guilt, there’s a lot of helplessness. “How do I deal with this?” And so, you know, there’s a lot of management of those feelings. So yeah, that’s a great point.

Moira: I think, too, one of the interesting patterns that we’re seeing with these laws, and it’s the same for Wisconsin, in terms of the proposed bills, is that there isn’t data or evidence of how any of this education that they seem to be pointing to is harmful. They say it’s harmful, and the feelings are being hurt, as Cindy was saying, but we don’t have any data or evidence of harm. And even in the hearing on August 11 in Wisconsin, some of the people testifying, the senators, but also teachers, asked about that. “What is the data? What exactly do you want us to not do? What do you think is harmful?” And it’s difficult for some of the sponsors of the bill to answer that question. They actually couldn’t answer that question on August 11. And I think that’s really telling,

Cyndi: It’s often just all anecdote. It’s just like the Boise State example. It’s like, “Well, I heard someone said that there was this” …and even the thing that kicked part of this off with Christopher Rufo that Moira was referencing earlier was, I believe it was a city worker in the city of Seattle who had seen a presentation and just took a picture of the slide and send it somewhere. So it wasn’t necessarily bad feelings, it was just like, “This could make me feel bad or something,” I think. So it’s very amorphous and there’s a lot of assumptions being made that aren’t well evidenced at all for this.

Moira: And everything out of context.

Cyndi: Yes, very much so.

John: Is this related to a concern about the decline of the white majority that had controlled the narrative for so long, and perhaps a backlash to that, which is showing up in voter suppression efforts in so many other areas?

Cyndi: Yeah, I think the backlash framing is interesting. Right now I’m reading a great book. Ashley Jardina, is a political scientist who wrote the book, White Identity Politics. I’m not all the way through it. It’s really fun to read so far. But she talks a lot about that, about how there’s this salience around white identity that’s happening now, because of this demographic shift. And so that this is part of that larger thing. So there’s this sense of threat. And this is a response to that. So I think it makes our job as teachers, when we teach about this, more tricky and more challenging in some ways, but it’s of a piece with what we’ve always had to deal with. And I think a lot of the techniques for working with it are probably going to be the same. I know at the K-12 level, it’s harder for them, because they have less academic freedom. But I think at the college level, a lot of just good teaching is the way that we’re going to have to continue to work with this backlash and threat that people feel.

Moira: I would agree. And I think that you hear whiteness and white identity and white privilege more often, I think, in a positive way, in the sense that it’s not these kind of niche areas or people. The good part is that people understand that more. And they understand that white identity is constructed just as much as black identity, just as much as any other racial category, they’re all constructed. And so I think, at least in my experience, when I talk to students about that, in that way, that social construction is this very real phenomenon, not just of identities, but many things. Sovereignty is a social construction. Norms have evolved over time about what states can or cannot do. It becomes something more within their grasp to know that this is a product of social forces that have huge impacts that we take for granted, that we internalize… myself and my peers… that we can dismantle, we can challenge, we can push against in the name of justice, in the name of more equitable outcomes. And I think it’s a tool that can be harnessed in that way. And so that’s something that I think absolutely produces the backlash, to your point, because people understand it as a movement to make people feel bad about whiteness, but actually, we all have constructed identities. And so we all are grappling with the ways in which those constructions are harmful.

Cyndi: And I think that actually gives us part of the way through this as teachers, I would say, because I’ve always thought about these two, sort of broad categories for thinking about teaching about race and racism. But even more so in the face of this, like I’m thinking about them more. So, one is the focusing on that institutional layer of things. We have so much focus on: “Are you a good or a bad person? Are you racist or not?” Particularly for white students. And if we can get beyond that, and really think about, “Yes, there is this individual layer, like the attitudes you hold, the behaviors that you display, but there’s also this bigger institutional part, where, as Moira said, all of our identities are constructed, and all of us are part of these larger systems, that we didn’t really ask to be a part of.” And so in many ways, that’s very freeing and liberating for students to see that, “Oh, yeah, I’m part of this harmful system, but it’s harmful to me, too.” It’s not as harmful to white people as it is to people of color, but there’s harm for everyone. It’s not just about me, it’s about this larger system. And that helps to, I think, get students away from just sort of the feelings of it, feeling bad, feeling guilty. It’s like, “No, let’s look at this in its entirety.” So I think that’s a really important thing when we think about how to teach in the face of this larger layer of scrutiny, is that, actually, that focus on the institutional level is helpful. That’s ironic, because that’s the thing that they want to ban. But I would argue that that’s actually a useful thing if you don’t want people to feel as bad. There’s some level of feeling that’s going to be there. But getting away from that, I think, is really helpful. That, and just creating as much belonging and community in your classes… you need to, that’s the second thing. And one more, I’ll just add, I’m a white instructor, and I’m tenured and all of that… it’s much easier. I think it’s really incumbent upon all of us in higher ed to recognize that this is a lot harder for instructors of color. It always has been and this makes it even harder. And for people who are adjunct instructors, graduate students, people who are not tenured yet, this is a really important issue that I hope that colleagues and administrators are paying attention to, I really do.

Moira: I just want to add one thing about the focus on the individual. The legislation ,even an opinion from an Attorney General in Arkansas recently just lists all these things that she sees as potentially violating anti-discrimination laws. But she only uses the language of the individual, the individual will feel this, the individual will be made to… So I think that, if we just step back for a minute and think about how social studies courses are taught in the K through 12 level, and we talk about how history courses… just very broadly for a minute… history courses are taught at the college and university level, they are never about who in this room is responsible for what happened. “This historical event that we’re talking about today, are you responsible? Are your ancestors responsible?” History has always talked about painful events. History courses, or social studies courses, have always talked about painful events, painful events in our history or others’ histories. And it isn’t about your ancestors’ responsibility or individual’s responsibility in the room. We talk about different forms of oppression. Even if you just think about workers’ rights at the beginning of the 20th century, when we think about who is oppressing or who was not giving a fair treatment to people in coal mines or in factories, we don’t talk about people’s ancestors in the room when we’re talking about those oppressions. We’re talking about that as a historical event that we learn from and that we then think about systems going forward from those events, our workers rights movements, child labor laws, etc. And so I think that’s something that is worth reflecting on, that that is the norm. What Cindy is describing is the norm. And many teachers in Wisconsin also said, this is the norm in terms of how we teach history, but it’s not about individual fault or blame.

John: We’re lucky in New York state that we don’t face this issue. But what can we do as individual faculty members to help push back against this type of thing?

Cyndi: Maybe I’m naive, but I really think teaching well is really important. And a lot of what we all know, in terms of good pedagogy, being inclusive, creating as much community as possible, creating a strong sense of belonging, I think all of that is going to be useful to fight back against the sort of stereotyped ideas of what we do as college faculty, and that we’re not brainwashing, we’re not doing that, what we’re doing is trying to bring students along and help them learn, I think about that Boise State instructor who really did what you should do in a situation like that. And so doing as much of that as possible and being focused on each other and being protective, like what I said before about really thinking about who are the more marginalized instructors on my campus that are doing this work? And do people really understand how hard that is? In my department, we take it for granted that the folks who teach statistics and methods, that’s harder, and their evaluations might not look as good as the folks who are teaching other stuff, like what I teach, social psychology, or things like that, that are more “fun.” I think, as colleagues, being aware how difficult this is and how hard it is, I heard a colleague this morning, say… she teaches about racism as part of a communications course… and she said, “I’m going to be taping my lectures, and not just so students have more access, but also because I am concerned that what I say could be mischaracterized, and so I want to make sure that I have it on the record.” And that’s the thing, that if you don’t teach about this, you might not understand that people are really afraid and feeling paranoid, for good reason. Because there is, like I said, that heightened scrutiny. So I think understanding that heightened scrutiny, pushing back against as much as possible, pushing our legislators to truly understand what it is we actually do instead of what it is that they sort of think that we do, and also being involved in our local communities like the school boards and things like that, because this is, as Moira said earlier, this is strategy, and it’s happening everywhere. So my guess is even in New York State, there’s probably some school districts where this is coming up, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be. it’s a nice big state, so I’m sure that that’s happening there. So that’s what comes to my mind.

John: Even though there hasn’t been any state legislative motions on this, we certainly have students who will share those views and who will push back. And while I don’t believe it’s happening in our institution, certainly in many institutions in New York, students have recorded portions of videos and posted them and so forth. I think that point you made about an instructor recording their classes to protect themselves is a suggestion I’ve often made to faculty, because people will sometimes say, well, what if I say something that I shouldn’t? I said, “Well, first, you probably shouldn’t be saying things that you shouldn’t.” But they’re concerned that students may take something out of context. And I said, “But if you have the video, you have the context, you’re much less likely to be protected if a student’s there with a smartphone, taking bits and pieces of what you’re saying and then perhaps editing parts of that out of context. It’s much better to have it within the setting.” I’ve actually encouraged people to record their classes to provide that sort of protection, if they’re not discussing really sensitive issues.

Rebecca: One thing that I wanted to ask a little bit about is you mentioned before about how many fields are just starting to be more inclusive in their classes. For example, in our design classes, we actually are providing more examples from different types of designers from around the world. Do you see some of this legislation and this pushback, starting to push back on some of that inclusivity or giving some instructors who are just starting to introduce some of these ideas… where maybe the topic isn’t about race and racism – that’s not the subject matter of the class – but you’re trying to be more inclusive, you’re moving in this direction. What should we be thinking about as instructors who are doing this work for the first time, or we’re just doing it more than we ever had before?

Cyndi: Yeah, I think it’s a real concern. I always make a distinction between inclusive teaching generally, which isn’t necessarily talking about racism, or systems of oppression. And there’s a lot of good work on that, I would just shout out Viji Sathi, and Kelly Hogan who I know you all have had on and they have a book coming out next year about inclusive pedagogy that I think is gonna be awesome. And so in working on those techniques, and I find a lot working with instructors that you hear a lot like, “I don’t want to talk about that, I don’t know how to talk about that, that’s going to be too controversial and I won’t be able to cover it.” So maybe don’t start there. Instead, just start with some of these inclusive teaching practices as much as possible. And then working into adding that content as much as possible. And just using as many outside resources as possible to make you feel comfortable. So, I always say, “Go look at your professional association, because they’ve thought about this, there’s going to be a diversity committee in the American Chemical Society, I think, is what it’s called, I’m probably getting that wrong. My chemistry friends will correct me, I’m sure. But there’s a diversity committee who has thought about this, like how do you increase representation. So use that and don’t try to recreate the wheel. And also make sure you just start again with those good inclusive teaching practices, which don’t necessarily require you to be talking about really controversial stuff, but allow you to still create as much equity and access. So I know the new center at Uni of River Falls, we’re going to be running some inclusive teaching workshops this year. And that’s part of why is because we want to make sure that we’re giving people the tools to be able to do that as much as possible.

Rebecca: But certainly a strategy we’re using here as well. We had Viji Saffy and Kelly Hogan here right at the start of our semester to kick off some inclusive pedagogy workshops.

Moira: Yeah, I would just add that this is in the frame of mind for inclusive teaching, but also this idea of pay attention to the different experiences in your classrooms, and also look at what kinds of voices are in your readings, who is not being heard, what perspective is not necessarily being heard here. That’s obviously an element of inclusive teaching. But I think it’s something that is easily overlooked. I’m going to speak for political science, because that’s mine, and they are terrible at this. And I’ve just been at institutions where you get a diversity assignment with your course, if you have a certain level of multiple voices and perspectives being taught on your particular international relations topic, for example. And that’s an odd system that many of us universities have, it’s this extra thing that some courses will do to include a variety of voices on the subject of foreign policy, for example, when the norm is to not do that. But if you do that, you will get a designation. And that’s my own experience in political science, I’ll only speak to that. But I think that that’s something to reflect on as a department, whatever the discipline you’re in, in terms of “What do these designations tell us if you have a system like that? What does it mean for what we’re teaching and what we’re bringing to our students in our department? And how could we do better?”

John: We always end with the question, what’s next?

Cyndi: Well, the semester is next [LAUGHTER]… the semester starting next, I’ll just say two other quick things: we’re opening our official CTL space next week, which I’m very excited about, because we have not, at UW River Falls, had a center. Well, we started in March of 2020, which is not a time you should start a center, but we did. [LAUGHTER] So we were virtual for the whole first year. And also I’m working on a research project with a colleague in our sociology department, where we’re looking at how do students learn about structural racism most effectively? And how do they learn it across different sorts of classes? So, intro level sociology versus an upper-level course like mine. So that’s what’s next for me is looking at that data and following up on that to better understand that process for students.

Moira: I’ll also say, no matter what discipline you’re in, what’s happening, this pattern and this movement that we’ve been talking about is something that is worth talking about, with young people at the college level, no matter what discipline you’re in, to kind of pose it as “What do you know? What do you understand about this? What have you heard? What questions do you have?” kind of topic, it could be an icebreaker, it could be further into the term, but just in terms of even just hearing from them about what they think about their own learning at their campus, and how this may or may not affect what they do, and put it in their hands to hear a little bit about what they think you don’t hear a lot from the students in these debates. Obviously, young people, people of elementary school age are not necessarily going to testify at a hearing. But I think that’s an important absence here is that we don’t hear from young college students necessarily all the time about what their interests are, what they understand of their experience on campus.

Rebecca: Imagine that.. asking students.

Moira: Ask the students! [LAUGHTER] That’s a great point.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for your insights, and food for thought as we move into the fall semester.

Moira: Yeah. Thanks for having us.

John: Thank you for joining us.

Cyndi: Thanks so much for having us!


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Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.