Erin Seaton, who teaches future teachers, repeats the words of civil rights icon John Lewis: We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.
“We’re in a moment we can’t run away from,” says Seaton, a senior lecturer in the education department of the School of Arts and Sciences. “We can’t escape the conversation about race, racial identity, white supremacy, and how that impacts students and the classroom.”
As faculty across Tufts’ campuses prepared for the current semester, through a spring and summer that saw anguish over the killings of Black men and women and intensified protests against systemic racism, many found themselves searching for ways to reflect the quest for racial justice in their teaching. “Race is imbued in all aspects of our lives and experiences and can’t be left out of a single thing,” says Seaton.
In some departments, these concepts were already an integral part of the curriculum. “Issues of social justice and sustainability are woven into the DNA of a department like ours,” says Julian Agyeman, a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning. “These crises are simply a confirmation of what we already knew.”
For others, the connections can be a little harder to tease out. “Where does [racial justice] fit in if you’re plugging numbers into an equation? How do you bring it into the classroom when there is no obvious on-ramp?” asks Associate Professor Sean Cash, who teaches the introductory statistics class at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “When you talk about racism, the biggest problem is not the bigot screaming obscenities from his front lawn,” says Cash—it’s the systemic racism beneath the surface. “It’s the same thing in the classroom—it’s not where the easy connections are, but where you have to squint to see where the connections are.”
Finding those connections won’t happen in a single semester. For teachers, it will involve self-reflection; listening; rethinking long-established syllabi or canonical sources; support from the university; and some trial and error. “This work is ongoing. There is no end,” says Ryan Rideau, associate director of Tufts’ Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT).