Following the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department, and in the wake of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the nation entered a period of reckoning with race, policing, and more broadly, social justice. As accounts of these events unfolded across social media, they led to two mobilizations, the first of which took place on the streets and in public places, calling for justice, reforms to policing, and an acknowledgement of racism in the nation’s past. The second movement was a search for education and answers, and saw books by Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi take the best-seller spots at Amazon.
Exactly five months ago, I received an email from a student asking how they could help. They were at home in the middle of a pandemic, and wrote: “I’ve tried to stay updated, learn more, donate...sign the different things I can online, repost, but I don’t feel like I’m doing enough….Is there anything I can do? I want to do more.” I had directed my friends and former students in college to classes at their schools that addressed social justice movements or race and ethnic relations, but we did not quite have that offering here at Brentwood. The only solution would be to design a course and hope to elicit student interest.
By the end of the summer, “Advocacy, Activism, and Social Justice” began to take shape. It would be a BCIL designated course that explored the history of marginalized groups—Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinx, LBGTQ+, immigrants, among other groups—from their perspective. It would also open up avenues for students to educate others about these challenges, as well as partner with community organizations or advocacy groups that have already been “doing the work” supporting and advocating for these groups.
In an ideal world, there would not be a need for this course; the stories we tell in our classes would not silence, sideline, or marginalize any particular groups, and their fight for justice and inclusion would be a fight they have already won. Unfortunately, we do not live in this world. Instead, we need to be able to turn to our students and say, “Hey, here’s a class that you should consider, this might help you learn how to do more.”