Center for Digital Learning at SUNY Geneseo

Making connections

Author Angie Thomas signing books Author Angie Thomas at a book signing. Photo by Flickr user seanbirm (Sean Birmingham), CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Editor’s note: This post is one in a series by Geneseo faculty who in Intersession 2021 taught courses that either focused centrally on issues of racial justice or incorporated those issues via dedicated modules and interwoven content. To find all posts in this series, part of Geneseo’s project of becoming an antiracist college, look for the tag “intersession 2021”.

My goal for my Interssession 2021 course, Topics in Literature: Race and Representation in Text and Media, was to not ignore the racial tension and injustices that are occurring in our country. I wanted students to be given the opportunity to explore these topics and issues in a creative, safe format. With this in mind, I chose the texts Dear Martin by Nic Stone and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I chose these two texts to incorporate into my syllabi as a way of starting the conversation on racism and racial injustice. I wanted students to read and expand their understanding of racial issues and the treatment that Black Americans face.

I intentionally broke up the course so that students focused on one novel and module a week. Each week, students read a novel, had class discussions, and then responded to what they read through completing a weekly reader’s response. It was important that each class discussion connect the themes in the text to what is occurring in society today. Students discussed topics such as racism, police brutality, media representation, and racial injustice. They were able to use the discussion board as a safe space to interact with one another and have an open conversation with peers that might not have been possible otherwise. Through thought-provoking questions and discussions, students’ learning was enhanced, and they gained an understanding of weighty subject matters such as systematic discrimination and police brutality.

Integrating the specific texts and conversations into the curriculum afforded students the opportunity to learn and understand others’ lived experiences to benefit self, society, community, and culture. Time and again, I have argued that the African American genre is often overlooked or minimized. Too often, minority groups are underrepresented in mainstream culture, creating the illusion that only certain demographics are able to creatively participate in society. By teaching this genre to my students, I help them learn how great writers of all cultures and ethnicities can engage in meaningful dialogue through literature.

The three chosen texts for this class granted students the chance to examine the ideologies that perpetuate oppression. Students evaluated the society they currently live in, but more important, students were able to reflect, identify, and become aware of their own personal biases in order to help make a change. Teaching students the importance of moving away from racial stereotypes and ideologies will help make them aware and, hopefully, lend a hand in creating an antiracist campus environment.