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Faculty members create “Community Conversations”

Faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work have begun “Community Conversations,” focusing on peer-based study around the topic of anti-racist teaching practice. The

“Community Conversations” group meets regularly to share resources and discuss ways to strengthen an anti-racist environment in the classroom, particularly when teaching in an environment that is multi-racial but predominantly white.

“This feels both urgent and relevant,” group co-leader Laurie Selz-Campbell noted in an email to faculty, doctoral students and staff at the School, inviting their participation. “We hope this can be a forum in which we can engage together in some of the personal and professional work needed to move ourselves toward deepened anti-racist teaching practices.”

That email outlines the kinds of questions that the group is addressing:

  • How do we avoid centering whiteness and the experience of white students when there are more white students in the room and when the professor, if white, is also probably doing some unintentional centering of whiteness?
  • How do we invite the engagement of students of color without unduly burdening them to share, when to do so feels risky, personal, dangerously vulnerable and benefiting white students more than themselves?
  • How do we gauge the inflection point where conversations move from “uncomfortable but important/productive” to “uncomfortable and harmful”? And how do we respond to our own wondering about this, after the fact, in a way that’s not further traumatizing?
  • How do we gauge the point at which it’s time to move a discussion to more private spaces without modeling avoidance?
  • How do we encourage white students to interrogate themselves without traumatizing students of color who have to sit there and watch/listen to the whole thing unfold?
  • How do we move from simply naming a racialized dynamic to a more nuanced and healing response in the moment?

In addition to its exploration of anti-racist teaching practice, the “Community Conversations” group is also hosting opportunities for students, faculty and staff to examine the various emotions that have come to the forefront in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and earlier crimes against Blacks.

“Conversations cannot take the place of action steps needed to address the institutional racism and injustice that exists in our community,” Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Travis Albritton wrote in an email to faculty, doctoral students and staff. “We recognize, however, that many of you may desire spaces to express the exhaustion, grief and anger felt over unceasing racial inequality expressed through violence and injustice. Black lives matter.

“Please join us to process the ongoing impacts of systematic racism and further increase our resilience through community connection,” Albritton added.

The “Community Conversations” group has scheduled three meetings in June.