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Faculty Cohort Digs into Practical Side of Fostering Anti-Racism

Faculty Cohort Digs into Practical Side of Fostering Anti-Racism

Each week, faculty members across Duke reach out to Sherilynn Black, Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement. “Pretty much every single day,” she said, “I have a request from someone saying, ‘Help, this happened in my class!’ or ‘Help, I’m not sure what to do!’”

Last summer’s Living While Black symposium was a step toward engaging all members of the Duke community in the pursuit of racial justice and equity. Many people have committed to deepening their understanding and taking action, but they’re sometimes unsure how to proceed.

Black teamed up with Charmaine Royal, Professor of African and African American Studies, to develop a faculty curriculum on race and racism at the individual, interpersonal and institutional levels. The resulting short course, Dismantling Racism at Duke: Faculty Curriculum for Spring 2021, took place from January 11 to 14. “It was designed for the practical side of things that a lot of you have reached out about needing assistance with,” Black told the more than 150 faculty members from all of Duke’s schools who participated.

Brief excerpts from the presenters

Charmaine Royal, Professor of African and African American Studies

“Some people don’t feel that they have the influence to really make a difference regarding race and racism. They don’t feel they have the standing or the visibility to actually create change. I see the need for each of us to reflect on the things we can do. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. There are little things that we can do, each of us, to help move the needle a bit on some of these issues.”

Sherilynn Black, Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement

“We, the faculty, are leaders on this campus. Oftentimes people may say, ‘I’m just here to do my research,’ but the reality is, we drive the culture on campus. If we start thinking of ourselves more as leaders on campus and less as just members of the environment, it starts to help contextualize the ways we can think about our role in changing what’s happening with race. We largely set, control and maintain the culture and climate in our classrooms, our labs, learning spaces and in our departments. Our positionality in academia means that we have the power, the agency and the ability to determine how those who learn from us, work for us and collaborate with us experience Duke – and life more broadly. And as scholars, we have structures and policies that reward us for taking on complex problems and finding solutions. Race and racism fall into this category.”

Claudia Gunsch, Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement

“Individuals from underrepresented groups feel they have to work harder than their white colleagues. In this particular study [HERI Faculty Survey, 2017], almost three quarters of Black, Asian and Latinx professors were feeling a need to work harder than their colleagues to be seen as legitimate scholars. So we talk about the invisible labor, where those individuals have to go and convince the majority faculty of their worth. This entails time away from their particular research area, which leads to their having less time to do the research and the things that actually count in the way that the system is currently designed. And, we often want to diversify the voices that come to the table when we’re talking about policies or different types of committees, but we need to recognize that we have a very small number of underrepresented faculty, so there is additional labor that is put on those individuals.”

Abbas Benmamoun, Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement

“Sometimes, especially when you have constrained resources or tight budgets, people say, ‘I don’t have room in my budget to do this work.’ What I would suggest is to step back and say, ‘How can we make our values guide our resource allocation?’ I hear quite a bit from people, ‘I would like to do this work but I don’t have the resources to do it.’ That really gives me pause, because that shows that this may not be a priority and we don’t see it as essential to enhancing our academic excellence. If we look at it from a different lens, that this work is really important for us, it is going to elevate all of us, enrich the student experience and broaden the scope of our research, then probably we can decide how to prioritize it in our budget, rather than thinking about it in terms of an add-on that we can cut out when we are under constrained budget situations.”

Kimberly Hewitt, Vice President for Institutional Equity

“Our office is thinking about ways to get feedback [on the Anti-Racism at Duke website] and coordinate information. You can easily see the department-level plans and the school-level plans; I’m working on a way to get more comprehensive informative about how the administrative units are addressing this problem. The Office for Institutional Research has been working on ways to present more demographic data. We get questions and requests all the time from people who are saying, ‘We don’t even know what the numbers look like in our department,’ so making that more available to the university and to others is a goal. We hope to make the website a space for transparency and accountability for Duke overall. There are lots of perspectives on our ability to move this forward and we want this to be a living, breathing space where you can see that transformation happening.”

Dismantling Racism: Faculty Curriculum at a Glance

Day 1: The Individual

  • Unpacking the present moment: Using theory to frame the issues
  • What is race?
  • Examination of personal culture and identity
  • Personal values inventory

Day 2: The Interpersonal

  • Connections to others with a culturally aware lens
  • How we connect and communicate with our colleagues
  • How perceptions of race influence the dynamics between faculty
  • Intent vs. impact in racialized dialogues

Day 3: The Institution

  • Institutional culture shifts, trends and the role for faculty in anti-racist goals
  • Structures and policies: Identifying inequities and making a plan for change
  • What will it take to make these changes a reality?
  • Influence of race on teaching, hiring and admissions: Creating personal bias checks
  • How to effectively intervene when biases emerge

Day 4: The Roadmap Forward

  • Fully committing to dismantling racism at the individual, interpersonal and institutional level
  • Faculty as culturally aware leaders
  • Putting theory and tools into practice
  • Accountability for upholding anti-racist behaviors: Developing a personal action plan

Learn More

Sampling of Resources Used in the Curriculum