Taking Deliberate Steps to Combat Racism in the Classroom
James E.K. Hildreth Sr., President and CEO of Meharry Medical College recently said, “Today, we are fighting two formidable enemies—racism and disease. We cannot afford to let either win.”
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In an effort to combat racism while we battle disease and health inequities, faculty and staff in the VTC community are encouraged to learn meaningful ways to show solidarity and stand against racism and hate in all its forms. One way to do this is by ensuring that our classrooms, clinical environments and learning spaces are equity-mined and free from bias and hostility. As noted in the Virginia Tech Principles of Community, we must “reject all forms of prejudice and discrimination,” as well as take individual and collective steps to increase “our own understanding of these issues through education, training, and interaction with others.”
Strategies for establishing and maintaining inclusive classrooms
Here are a few strategies and resources that can help instructors establish and maintain inclusive classrooms that are free of —or at least minimize—racial bias and hostility.
- Acknowledge that racism has deleterious effects on the health of minority populations, and refresh curricula to address culturally competent health care, health care inequities, and help medical students develop the clinical skills to address and curtail racial bias in health care settings.
- In collaboration with students, establish specific guidelines for appropriate behavior in the classroom, including confidentiality, respectful disagreement, and civil debate.
- Don’t ask students to speak for an entire group. Overgeneralizing any group identity, or assigning any group of people to a singular characteristic, disposition, or behavior, is problematic.
- If by chance a tense exchange occurs in a class session and you later realize, or a student shares something you did not recognize in the moment, consider revisiting the exchange and what you may all learn from it. Addressing the issue during the next class will actually model the behavior that you would like your students to exhibit during challenging interactions.
- Address blatantly offensive and discriminatory behaviors and comments and hold students accountable for their actions.
- Learn and use students’ preferred names. Ask for the correct pronunciation of someone's name. If someone has an accent and you can't understand what they are saying, ask them to repeat their comments slowly.
And remember, it is absolutely OK to seek knowledge, clarification and assistance from our diversity team or other colleagues if you need support or feel that a topic is outside of your comfort zone.
Suggested Resources and Interesting Reading
When Students Complained About A Professor’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ Shirt: The Law Professor Who Answered Back
DallaPiazza, M., Padilla-Register, M., Dwarakanath, M., Obamedo, E., Hill, J., and Soto-Greene, M. (2018). Exploring Racism and Health: An Intensive Interactive Session for Medical Students
Anti-Bias Education: How Should I Talk about Race in My Mostly White Classroom?
10 Ways to Talk to Students About Sensitive Issues in the News
Pushing Back Against Racism and Xenophobia on Campuses
Romano, Max (2018). White Privilege in a White Coat: How Racism Shaped my Medical Education. Annals of Family Medicine, 16(3): 261–263.
Harper, S. R. and Davis III, C.H.F. (2018). Eight Actions to Reduce Racism in College Classrooms.