Profs awarded for essay on combating erasure of ‘blackness’

Minneapolis Community and Technical College professors who penned a five-part essay on their effort to combat racial inequity in writing programs received the “Best Article Award for 2017” from The National Council of Teachers of English.

Originally published last year, the essay features observations from five professors who address the “erasure” of blackness and brownness in writing programs on campus, including proposed changes to alleviate the harms of “white privilege.”

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“The contributors to this piece are members of an urban two-year college English department that has adjusted its curriculum to better reach our culturally diverse student population, a student body that has grown to 58 percent students of color at a site where over eighty languages are spoken,” the essay explains.

While describing her experience in the school’s English department, one professor observes that “adding faculty of color to the department was not enough; we had to change the culture, one where white patriarchy had been an almost unquestioned way of doing things.”

Another professor contends that students from Mexico, Ethiopia, South America, Somalia and South Asia arrived in English classes with cultures “most damaged by American settler colonialism and therefore most damaged by the ongoing colonization echoing through our white-dominant classrooms.”

On the whole, the work detailed numerous efforts to reform the college curriculum and hiring practices in order to break down the system of “constructed whiteness” on campus. The essay also noted backlash that the professors received for their initiative, including a lengthy investigation into the hiring procedures implemented by the English department.

“The short version is that the four of us were charged with having said something that discriminated against and racially harassed our white male colleague,” one author explains. “A yearlong investigation was initiated by our campus legal affairs officer, which included calling in sixteen English department members as witnesses.”

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After being found not guilty, the professors continued their campaign to establish a culture of “racial equity” on campus.

“Over the past fifteen years I’ve taught at schools that are majority-white institutions and schools that are over half students of color, and each institution has its own flavor of racist white dominance coated with a light veneer of diversity-speak,” another professor argues in the fourth part of the essay.

“Passion and teaching reaches a new level of dysfunction when white faculty members link their identities to their work ‘saving’ minority students. Do not be deluded by good intentions and the sense that your identity is wrapped up in fixing ‘these’ students,” she adds.

In conclusion of the work, the last author suggests a number of solutions to toward achieving equity in the classroom, including working “toward dismantling institutional and structural inequity,” recognizing that “equity benefits all members of the institution and the communities that we serve,” creating an oversight body “which then has the power of holding individual institutions and instructors transparently accountable when equity situations are dire,” and more.

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