OPINION: Higher education needs to normalize anti-racist education

Gabe+Darley+%7C+Contributing+Artist

Gabe Darley | Contributing Artist

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

As the fall semester begins, universities across the country have expressed their commitment to addressing racism and bigotry on campus. For example, Northeastern University announced initiatives to increase representation on campus and provide comprehensive support for Black students. 

Similarly, Tulane has also pledged to combat racism and create a more equal, inclusive campus through the implementation of new programs and the expansion of existing ones. 

One of Tulane’s biggest initiatives to fight racism was in 2018, when the school began mandating a race and inclusion requirement for undergraduate students. These courses span several departments and include classes such as Critical Race Theory and Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies. Currently, Tulane students are required to complete one race and inclusion course by the end of their sophomore year

Race and inclusion courses like the ones that Tulane offers have been touted as an important tool to fight racism within higher education. It’s clear that courses centered on marginalized communities are necessary in a core undergraduate curriculum. However, specialized race and inclusion courses are not the perfect solution to issues of race in higher education. 

One issue with specialized race and inclusion courses is that, in an ironic twist, they can other marginalized communities. By creating special courses for marginalized issues, higher education continues to highlight whiteness as normal. 

For instance, having classes dedicated to African American literature while continuing to feature mainly white authors in traditional American literature courses is not productive. It continues to facilitate the narrative that white figures belong in the traditional classrooms and avoids making space for needed marginalized voices. 

Most importantly, initiatives of anti-racist education and decolonization need to be an ongoing activity. Required race and inclusion courses, while a needed mandate, can be perceived as an end to anti-racist education for students. Especially for students who are less likely to take liberal arts classes focused on issues of marginalization, such as STEM majors, incorporating lessons of social justice at every level is crucial. 

There’s no field of academia that is incapable of fully integrating anti-racist education. Anthropology classes, for example, consistently draw attention to the field’s colonial past and ethical issues. Unfortunately, few other fields of academia are as transparent about their roles in systems of oppression. As we strive towards decolonizing our minds and classrooms, this will be a necessary step to take. 

Computer science classes need to discuss how technology can perpetuate racism and target Black people. Business classes need to discuss how capitalism is ultimately a tool of white supremacy. Even chemistry classes can take a beat in between lectures on resonance structures to discuss how scientific fields are biased against Black academics. By thoroughly integrating anti-racism into all courses, institutions of higher education can start to normalize anti-racist ideologies in the minds of students. 

We absolutely still should have courses entirely dedicated to marginalized communities, such as African American Literature, but they shouldn’t be the end to anti-racist curriculum. They can’t be. 

Genuinely working towards goals of inclusivity means radically rethinking the narratives that traditional university classes have long been perpetuating. It won’t be easy, but if universities want to show that they truly care about their marginalized students, they need to interrogate the status quo of higher education and ensure that anti-racism runs throughout every aspect of the school. 

We can’t just make anti-racism a new category in class catalogues. We need to make anti-racism our new normal.