Dive Brief: 

  • The University of Pittsburgh is requiring first-year students on two of its campuses to complete a free new course on anti-Black racism.

  • It’s one of several colleges that are adding courses on social injustice in response to a year marked by nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. 

  • Student activists at Pitt and elsewhere are asking administrators to go beyond adding one-off courses in racism to address social inequities on campus. Experts suggest instructors build anti-racist pedagogy into any class, regardless of discipline. 

Dive Insight: 

The one-credit, asynchronous class seeks to educate students about the Black experience in the U.S. and the history of anti-racist organizing, according to its online course overview

Earlier this year, student groups and activists at Pitt sent a pair of letters making several demands of the administration, including that campus police cut ties with Pittsburgh police and that the university teach more about Black history and culture and reform its medical school curriculum to include more information about health disparities and case examples of people of color. 

The course is one way the university is answering those criticisms, Ann Cudd, Pitt’s provost and senior vice chancellor, wrote in a message to the campus. “We have heard from our Black students, as well as Black faculty and staff, that our campus is not the safe, inclusive, and equitable place for all that we are committed to creating,” Cudd wrote.

The course overview links its creation to several recent police killings of Black people, including that of George Floyd, who died after a White officer knelt on his neck for more than seven minutes. 

Floyd’s death set off a nationwide outcry, with some cities seeing months of daily demonstrations against police brutality. Most recently, protests broke out in Wisconsin this week after police there shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, several times in the back when responding to a reported domestic incident. 

In response to student demands, Pitt officials said the university will also offer grants “for faculty development and recognition of inclusive classroom techniques,” among other new initiatives.

Other colleges have been developing classes to teach about racial issues. The University of Colorado Boulder is planning to offer three new Coursera courses on anti-racism, the first of which launched this month. 

And California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a law that will make the state the first to require college students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate. The bill requires students across all 23 California State University campuses to take at least one three-credit class about Native American, African American, Asian American, or Latino and Latina studies, EdSource reported.

Although one-off classes about social inequities can be important, incorporating anti-racist pedagogies into all courses is a “better method,” said Alisa Cooper, a journalism, literature and English professor at Glendale Community College, in Arizona. 

“We have to convince (students) that these issues are important,” she said. “And the best way to do that is to integrate these types of discussions and pedagogy into the regular courses.” 

Cooper is a co-author of a new report detailing the ways anti-racist pedagogy can be incorporated into classes. The report makes several recommendations, including that instructors reflect on their own relationships to race and power. They should also prepare themselves to deal with challenging scenarios, such as students using offensive language or misrepresenting data to make a racist argument.

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