In the article “Toward a race pedagogy for Black faculty” (2014), Closson, Bowman and Merriweather examine how Black professors who teach racially, culturally and social justice based courses create a pedagogical approach that engages both the learner and the faculty in an environment that is non-threatening. This is a difficult task because many scholars have asserted that teaching such courses are “dangerous” (DeSoto, 2008) and “polarizing” (Tucker, 2008) from the onset. Additionally, as a society, we do not readily, willingly, and openly discuss race. Many of the students who are enrolled in such courses are forced to be there because of some general education requirement which causes frustration for the student and they often enter the learning experience with a closed mind.
While it should be noted that challenges face any faculty member, regardless of race, who teaches such courses but for Black faculty, the challenges are very different. As indicated in the article, the majority of white students have not had many (or any) faculty of color as instructors and their presence alone in the classroom causes angst and uncertainty. This lack of comfort causes students to act out in various ways. As a result, these faculty members experience what is coined “racial battle fatigue” as they have to defend themselves, their scholarship, their motivation for the teaching material, their academic credibility and yes… even their intellectual capabilities.
The authors pointed out that over the time professors have used trial and error approaches to teaching these types of courses. The anticipatory approach is one method used by some but unfortunately puts the faculty member on the defense. It requires that faculty members anticipate the antithetical attitudes and prejudices held by some students in order to prevent them from happening. Faculty spend copious amounts of time over-preparing for lectures in an effort to be extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter so that they look like the expert and the information they present is flawless. This addresses the issue on the front end and preempts inappropriate commentary, questions or challenges from the students.
Another approach by faculty members is “minimizing or controlling the politicized and/or or contentious nature of the subject matter”. The basis of this approach is to dilute the content so that the material is more palatable and will not generate as many negative emotions from the students. It is a very non-confrontational approach and does not promote the self-guilt or resistance from white students that other methods may inadvertently evoke. The principle behind this method is to create a safe environment where all students are welcome to provide their perspective in a non-judgmental atmosphere.
While there is no one right or wrong method, it cannot be denied that the race and lived experience of a faculty member is very relevant when it comes to race base courses.