Mediating Race from the Academy Awards to Academe

Mediating Race from the Academy Awards to Academe

Today’s class began with the usual passing around of table tents with our names on them, helping us all to remember one another’s names. In “Mediating Race” with Professors Cathy Davidson and Racquel Gates, it’s not just the professors’ jobs to remember names but also the responsibility of students to learn the names of who they’re sitting next to. Using names in class discussions has already aided the building of trust in our community, as today’s collaborative efforts revealed. 

Professor Davidson led with a brief lecture on The New Education and the Futures Initiative that later spilled into a Think-Pair-Share activity bringing both her work and Professor Gates’ Double Negative into conversation. To begin thinking about how to bring what we’re learning in class into our own classrooms, we went through Professor Gates’ slide deck that she uses to teach the history of Academy Awards acceptance speeches by Black actors. Then, in a Think-Pair-Share, students came up with three key words related to “Mediating Race” and education. After 90 seconds, we came together as a class and shared our key terms and phrases, typing them all out into a collaborative Google Doc. We grouped some of the key phrases together to come up with a proposal for the upcoming Futures Initiative Spring Conference, “Race and Its Futures.” In case you’re interested in applying, the deadline is March 1, 2019.

Here’s the abstract our class co-created:

Drawing from Professor Racquel Gates’ Double Negative, this panel, “Reconstructing Race in Academia: A Media Perspective,” will explore the link between media representations of race and examples of social and institutional racism, including in higher education. Media in all forms often situate race as a binary of positive and negative, superiority and inferiority, “high” and “low.”  Those same binaries are replicated in the value systems in our classrooms and in our institutions. What can we do to “flip the script”?

As Richard Dyer writes, “racial imagery is central in organizing the world.” It shapes the way we learn and the way we teach and the way we engage in the world around us. How can we use new media in the democratic classroom to avoid replicating old systems of inequality? How do we locate authenticity in an inauthentic system–and locate ourselves as prospective authentic actors in a compromised system? How do we subvert techno- and bureaucratic systems that Kristen Warner calls “plastic representation” or “box-checking”? This panel will engage the audience in analyzing and addressing all of these questions.

We still have some work to do to plan an interactive activity with the audience, but I’m really excited to see what we come up with in the next few weeks!

One response to “Mediating Race from the Academy Awards to Academe”

  1. It was pretty amazing watching a class come together and, in twenty minutes, write a conference proposal for our annual Futures Initiative Symposium.   Who has ever written an abstract for a panel in twenty minutes before?  It was fantastic to go around the room and ask each student if they had any thoughts, anything to add, and (thanks to amazing Christina) so those ideas sketeched into a Google Doc that we then shaped together.  Five minutes of editing after class (for syntax, grammar, and so forth) put together what you see above.  Pretty nice.
    The most frequent push-back I receive (including in our class) about progressive education is ‘I’m so tired, I’m overworked–I don’t have time for creative pedagogy .  .  .  and the students resist it too.” 
    I actually believe that, among the many inequalities of higher education (starvation wages for adjunct professors being high on that list, it needs to be said) is the sanctification of “over work.”   Graduate students are given insanely long reading lists for exams.  Undergraduates are given insanely long syllabi.  New (and old) professors brag about how long it took them to prepare, how hard they work, how hard their students work:  what is the value system embedded in overwork?  What is the relationship between workload and learning?  Is a huge, long, syllabus really about “rigor” or, realistically, teaching students how to cheat, fudge, plagiarize, and disrespect the system?
    I have not yet had anyone–and I give about one talk or consult with one institution a week–tell me they can’t do progressive, engaged learning because they are “overworked” who hasn’t immediately been able to find a way to transform their own work into creative engagement that taxes them and the students (both!) much less and is inspiring to everyone.  Literally.  You tell me your course and show me your syllabus and we can work together to pare it down, to think about values and essentials, and to create a class that will require less preparation from you as a teacher, more engagement from your students, and less reading of long assignments that are never discussed again, and that have more symbolic than actual weight.
    I am convinced overwork/underpayment are concomitants of the low regard our society places on higher education for everyone.  The “Gentleman’s C”… is for …  “gentlemen.”   Overwork is for everyone else.  Inequity and inequality are backed into a system of overpreparation and underlearning, overassigning and under-engagement.  We can change that.
    And we worked to exemplify that in class.  In a twenty-minute “idea sprint” we not only wrote a terrific abstract/proposal for the Symposium, but engaged meaningfully in tough ideas, creating linkages across “mediating race” (the course topic) and institutional, curricular, and pedagogical design (the course method).  It turns out systems of value are parallel, support one another . . . and we can work together to find better ways for all of us.
    And the good news:  if our panel is accepted at the FI Symposium “Race and Its Futures,” every student will leave this course with a panel participation line on their CV.  20 minutes.  Think about it!
    Here’s the citation that each class member will be able to add to their CV: 
    Panel presentation, “Reconstructing Race in Academia: A Media Perspective,” Futures Initiative Annual Symposium, Race and Its Futures: Teach, Research, Imagine,  Graduate Center, CUNY, April 9, 2019.