March 4, 2002

Interest Brings Back Africana 280

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When many students discovered the last time that Africana Studies and Research Center 280: Race, Power and Privilege in the United States (AS&RC 280) — which is cross-listed with Policy Analysis and Management 280 in the College of Human Ecology — would be offered in the fall semester of 2000, they rushed to get registered into the class.

“[The course AS&RC 280] is a course that had developed as an undergraduate course, as a significant educational experience,” said Prof. James Turner, Africana Studies and Research Center. “Since Prof. Barr officially retired, we said that we wouldn’t do it again, since it was a jointly-taught course.”

Prof. Emeritus Donald Barr, policy analysis and management, retired in July 2001.

The two professors have taught the class together for approximately 17 years.

Yet, with the growing interest in continuing the course, the professors discussed offering it again.

“We talked about reinstating the course for one more semester — we saw the biggest interest,” Turner said.

The two professors decided to teach AS&RC 280 for the spring 2002 semester. They committed to the class after the Courses of Study coursebook was published, so students learned of the new addition by talking amongst their peers. Approximately 280-300 students then enrolled.

“This course didn’t get into preregistration,” Barr said. “The registration of … students was by word-of-mouth. We were overwhelmed. We got calls with people asking if this was true. It was quite a statement.”

One student heard about the class from friends and decided to enroll.

“I have a number of friends who took the class, not this year but the year before and said that it was thought-provoking,” said Shira Golding ’02. “It opened their minds to a whole new way of thinking.”

AS&RC 280 deals with issues such as the economic, psychological and social concepts pertaining to racism, along with the influences of class, gender and race.

Unlike some other classes taught by more than one professor, Barr and Turner both attend each lecture.

Turner expressed his thoughts on the course material in context to modern society.

“The question of racism is a difficult and controversial subject to discuss in this country,” Turner said. “The trend now is to ignore the issue of racism, in the past and contemporarily.”

The professors were surprised at the interest in the course material and the number of people who registered for the course.

“Undergraduates are more interested in getting situated, securing their majors — not necessarily social issues like race,” Turner said.

The professors encourage students to ask questions and to think critically about the subjects presented in the lectures.

“This is a course that demands the students to ask questions, not to be called racists — to give them an opportunity to speak about these things.” Barr said. “We also focus on critical analysis. We try to establish patterns that have developed, like the impacts of slavery. How does slavery affect views of people and have an impact today? We teach race as a social construction and we go from there.”

Turner discussed the structure of AS&RC 280 and theories involving racism as well.

“What we are trying to do is get the students to see [the course material] from an academic point-of-view of how [conflicts] of race are socially constructed. The more it becomes entrenched in the social order, the more it becomes entrenched in the cultural value,” he said. “Culturally it becomes an ideology that has a social force of [its] own and the social base is perpetuated even though there are dominant ideas of social equality.”

He also emphasized that he believes that the course helps students to find “their comfort zones” and their possible interest in racism as a “deep subject for scholarly study and social problems in the society.”

Golding discussed her impressions about the course’s structure.

“To some degree I think [the course] preaches to the converted,” Golding said. “It talks to people who know about racism … It’s giving [the students] the tools to spread the message. I think that it is very important. Many classes don’t reach into everyday lives. “

The professors plan their course by focusing on the effects of racism from the Asian-American, African-American, Hispanic and Native-American perspectives.

“We start with the Native-American and then Africa. We always have a speaker from each [ethnic studies] program speak on a subject,” Barr said.

He commented on the effects the course has on many students.

“I think it’s important that a number of students have been enrolled and have never been exposed to any of this before. Students who struggle, intellectually and emotionally, grow from this,” Barr said.

However, some students think that changes could be made to the course’s core curriculum.

“Overall, I like the way [the course] is run, the assignments, the course requirements and that the class is offered at night,” said Ryan Horn ’02. “I think that the tone of the course material needs work. I would try to get a more balanced curriculum. All the assignments, the readings on the syllabus have one common theme, one common viewpoint. I think that overall, the course serves not to open student minds but to racialize the student body.”

The professors hope that the course will help students before and after their college experiences.

“We often hear from students after they’ve graduated and how this learning has influenced them,” Turner said.

One former student of AS&RC 280 reminisced on her experiences in the course and how the course material influenced her.

“I learned how to think very differently, learned how to talk about things differently,” said Keisha Hudson grad. “I loved it. I reread the course packet from time to time since I enjoy the material so much. I see how people treat other people, how to perceive things,” she added.

Archived article by Kelly Samuels