Thursday, November 10, 2016

What do I say to my students?



I teach a Chicanos and the Law class, it's often my favorite part of the week. I love talking to college students about race and bias and history. It's also an interesting class because of the makeup of my students. The class is cross listed in Chicano Studies and Criminology and it fulfills a diversity requirement of some kind. This means that I get brown activists, people who want to be cops, and people who want to go to law school.

I usually get a pretty left leaning crowd but there are always some (usually white and usually male) students who have never thought much, let alone talked about, race and bias. I really struggle with how to create the right space. I want to support, encourage and validate my activists and my students of color. I know that students do better in school when they are taught by people who look like them and that there's a certain freedom to learn and to be courageous when your own experiences are validated...when you don't feel crazy. And I want to create a space so empowering that my students of color can take that validation and confidence and use it to kick ass in their other classes.

I also want to create the kind of space where the people who are newer to this work can learn and grow. I want to challenge them in a way that doesn't frightening my white, straight or male students but where they are just uncomfortable enough to really evaluate their own ideas and values (interesting, I cannot do this at all in my personal life. As a professor it's my responsibility to create a space where everyone can learn...in my person life it's not my responsibility to put up with your racist bullshit).

So tonight I will be walking into a room where we've been talking about race for the last few months. Where I know that many of my students are undocumented. Where I know that many of my students will question their safety. And where some of my students might be happy that Trump will be there new presidents. And I'm not entirely sure how to approach it.

Academic discourse it good...until it's used to mask the actual harm that is being inflicted, the real pain that people feel, and the humanity that is in us all. I'm planning to devote about half the class to a discussion of our current political reality but I'm not sure how to strike the balance that will allow my students to feel ok.

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