Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Utilizing an African American Studies Course to Garner Critical Consciousness among Students: Considerations for Improving Campus Climate

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Utilizing an African American Studies Course to Garner Critical Consciousness among Students: Considerations for Improving Campus Climate

Article excerpt

Introduction

It is crucial that colleges and universities provide transformative and educational opportunities about the historical and contemporary significance of race in the United States so that critical consciousness is provoked among students. Igniting transformational thinking about race will create inclusive campus environments where students of all races can thrive academically as well as socially, feel supported, and feel acknowledged. While countless predominately white institutions (PWIs) espouse an obligation to "diversity" by adopting buzzwords within their mission statements such as multiculturalism, pluralism, and equity (Harper & Quaye, 2009) the practices employed to uphold such commitment are not always identifiable. It is important to note "diversity" encompasses a wide range of factors such as: age, gender, sexuality, race, class, religion, mental/physical ability, etc. However, within this context the word diversity is being used to deal exclusively with race. As such, it is being defined as the presence of historically underrepresented and systematically oppressed groups, specifically African Americans.

Students of color consistently report their perception of campus life at PWIs as racist and lacking in acceptance (Harper & Hurtado, 2007). According to Harper and Hurtado (2007) the racial climates across predominately white college campuses consistently indicate that there are disparate gaps in social satisfaction among racial groups, institutional neglect in regards to fostering interracial interactions, pervasiveness of whiteness in curricula and activities as the norm, and issues regarding race remain an avoidable topic at these institutions. This research seeks to examine what actions PWIs can take to truly uphold diversity when the contemporary lived experiences of students of color indicate otherwise. Furthermore, how can a PWI initiate dialogue about racial oppression (1) in a supposedly post-racial society?

Young people must be educated about the systematic issues that sustain hostile race relations on college campuses and beyond. Providing spaces for college students to learn and reflect on race have important implications for their racial development, campus environments, and how students contribute to society post-graduation. The mere presence of historically underrepresented and systematically oppressed groups on campus and in classrooms is not enough. This is substantiated by the fact that African American student graduation rate is twenty percentage points lower than white students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2014). One cause for this disparity stems from the environment of PWIs, which are not supporting the personal, social, and cognitive development of black students (Fleming, 1984). As one scholar puts it, "true equity does not cease at enrolling black college students, but enrolling black students closer to their presence in the population and they need to graduate" (Love, p. 28). In other words, enrolling black students does not automatically indicate racial equity on these campuses.

Additionally, white students who have been conditioned to discriminate against people of color and uphold white supremacist ideology, subtly and unsubtly, due to their pre-college socialization need to be re-educated and Student and Academic Affairs professionals need to make it their responsibility to foster the process of "re-conditioning" these students (Evans, et al., 2009). The development students undergo cognitively, affectively, morally, and interpersonally wholeheartedly depends on their university's ability to nurture this growth inside and outside of the classroom. Hence, being able to create campus environments that are truly inclusive is the first step to adequately engage and support students of color and have positive implications for white students as well.

While some may assert schools' primary purpose is to provide individuals economic opportunities like job security, there is a growing movement within the counseling field, k-12 education, and higher education that argues true education goes beyond the accumulation and recitation of de-contextualized information. …

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