Goucher College has requirement courses that students are recommended to take their first two years of college. If not by then, they must take them by the end of their 4 years here, in order to graduate and receive their degree in their major. These courses are designed to shape each student to be more well-rounded and gain knowledge in different subjects. Complex Problem Exploration (CPE) is an example of a Goucher required course. The general description of CPE courses consists of, “CPE courses build on student learning in the FYS and show students complex problems from more than one angle” (“The Goucher Commons Curriculum”). How would you feel being taught about what your ancestors have been through, through the eyes of the oppressor, just to fulfill a requirement?
I have personally witnessed students “not caring” about their CPE classes and expressing that they’re just trying to get the two courses “out of the way”. This results in students not actually paying attention in class or engaging in group discussion. It is frustrating to see those that are not of color, refusing to take a step back and realize that it is beneficial to take courses that can expand your knowledge on other cultures, and diversity in general. The problem comes in when those that are not of color, do not understand the difference between appreciating new cultures and appropriating those cultures.
When is the line drawn between learning/acknowledging a culture or appropriating it? Here at Goucher, there are a lot of culturally based courses that are taught by white professors; however, the amount of Black professors here can be counted on one hand, which is very disappointing. As a Black woman here at Goucher, it is hard to “learn” about such sensitive topics through the eyes of the “oppressor”. The topics that are covered in each CPE are very sensitive, and it is hard to comfortably share my opinions when my professor does not understand personally where I am coming from. Diversity is well needed in every educational setting in order to fully accommodate student’s needs, especially obtaining the knowledge needed to properly learn in the CPE courses.
If there are not going to be an equal amount of professors of color hired at Goucher, each professor should be required to fulfill cultural workshops and practice their empathy/sympathy for others who may not be as privileged. “The 21st – century teacher should be an interculturally competent person who knows how to address and exploit differences among students in a class in a positive manner, as well as manage conflicts and conflict risks successfully” (Boghian 1). Many students have confided in me that they do not feel comfortable engaging in conversation with their professors because of their different backgrounds, and the fear of belittlement towards the student’s perspectives.
Why wouldn’t one want to feel comfortable in a learning atmosphere? We should all be able to put our obvious differences aside and fully hear out what those that are a part of a minority group have to offer. When in class, there should be more student-driven conversations in topics that interest us as individuals instead of grouping us all together. For example, assignments that are personal to our backgrounds, like traditions. Students do not want to learn about the surface level of slavery or Martin Luther King’s take on anti-capitalism. The repeated “facts” are somewhat whitewashed and put people of color in the spotlight in class, and even throughout history. But learning from a white person makes it a somewhat humiliating experience, and they actually may “need” it more than others but are too scared to speak up on the past, or do not care overall.
I have experienced a CPE here at Goucher with one of the Black male professors and it helped a lot to hear firsthand experiences from him and what he has experienced as a person of color traveling the world. This brings another perspective to the concept of cultural traditions and past supremacy. I have also experienced a Black woman as my history professor. There was no shame in the execution on making sure that everyone in the class was engaged. On the contrary, it is very obvious that there is shame (white guilt) from the other professors, which comes off as lenient self-pity. Instead of making sure that everyone is engaged and admitting their white fragility and trying to change it around for the better, there is a lot of awkward silences; there is not a clear motive on trying to make sure each student is personally learning something. Instead, a movie or book that us students have read/seen before is thrown at us, like The Hate You Give and Born a Crime, which puts us in a non-progressive predicament, because no one is personally engaging in change.
“Education is about having dialogue, action, and reflection about ideas, practices and policies germane to the living conditions of persons” (Westfield 74). I feel as though we (as a committee) are missing pieces to this strategy presented by Nancy Lynne Westfield, who has a PhD in writing and teaches at Drew University. This strategy could help a lot of teacher-student dynamics because it refers to a hands-on approach by quickly adjusting to students’ discomfort, rather than professors boasting about those without power, every single class. There is more to “Complex Problem Exploration” than to be talked at for two hours and have to absorb everything like a sponge, but not have guidance on applying it to personal lives, that may need diversity. Admitting to one’s privileges is the first step, and a lot of professors are refusing to do so.
To add another outlook into the discussion, Angel Carter, a scholar at Tulane University expanded her knowledge on those that do not look like her by going to a university that is 75% white. This is an example of hands-on change. Angel states, “I hadn’t had many interactions with white people” … “I wanted to work on that: How do I code switch? How do I approach situations with people who do not look like me?” The statistic is very similar to Goucher, by simply stepping on to the campus, you can see the lack of diversity. Here at Goucher there should be an equal balance of white people and those that identify as a person of color, learning to adapt to different culture shocks and using it as an advantage towards building academic relationships. We are all on this campus together, we should learn to not just “get used to one another” but fully educate ourselves on white fragility and ways to add different perspectives to the classroom/classes (CPE).
BOGHIAN, Ioana. “Empowering Teachers to Deal with Classroom Diversity.” Romanian
Journal for Multidimensional Education / Revista Romaneasca Pentru Educatie Multidimensionala, vol. 11, no. 3, Sept. 2019, pp. 1–9. EBSCOhost, doi:10.18662/rrem/134.
Mongeau, Lillian, et al. “America’s Colleges Struggle to Envision the Future of Diversity on Campus.” The Hechinger Report, 16 Jan. 2019, hechingerreport.org/whither-diversity/.
“The Goucher Commons Curriculum.” Goucher College, www.goucher.edu/learn/curriculum/.
Westfield, Nancy Lynne. “Teaching for Globalized Consciousness: Black Professor, White
Student and Shame.” Black Theology: An International Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, Jan. 2004, pp. 73-83. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1558/blth.2004.2.1.73.