Anne S. Cross and Julia Hamer-Light UDARI Graduate Student Awards Update
Posted on July 22, 2021 at: 11:40 am
With the support of the University of Delaware’s Anti-Racism Initiative (UDARI), we were able to organize a series of programs in the Department of Art History in the spring of 2021 that centered the goal of developing anti-racist, anti-colonial, and anti-oppressive methods of pedagogy. The award of $2,000.00 allowed us to invite leading scholars, from Art History and beyond, to engage with graduate students and faculty on these issues. This series of programs provided the graduate students in Art History with critical training in new approaches to pedagogy and antiracism practices in both academic spaces and the art museum. We then drew upon the lessons offered by our guest speakers in a pedagogical workshop with Dr. Adam Foley, Associate Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Delaware. These events represented a first step toward addressing an identified need for better pedagogical training for graduate students in Art History, and were the culmination of a year-long, graduate student-led antiracism effort in the Department of Art History at the University of Delaware.
With the support of the University of Delaware’s Anti-Racism Initiative (UDARI), we were able to organize a series of programs in the Department of Art History in the spring of 2021 that centered the goal of developing anti-racist, anti-colonial, and anti-oppressive methods of pedagogy. The award of $2,000.00 allowed us to invite leading scholars, from Art History and beyond, to engage with graduate students and faculty on these issues. Through the generous support of the UD Anti-Racism Initiative, we were able to furnish honoraria of $400.00 –
$500.00 for each of our four guest speakers. This series of programs provided the graduate students in Art History with critical training in new approaches to pedagogy and antiracism practices in both academic spaces and the art museum. We then drew upon the lessons offered by our guest speakers in a pedagogical workshop with Dr. Adam Foley, Associate Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Delaware. These events represented a first step toward addressing an identified need for better pedagogical training for graduate students in Art History, and were the culmination of a year-long, graduate student-led antiracism effort in the Department of Art History at the University of Delaware.
Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, and amidst the subsequent uprisings that took place across the nation and around the world, the graduate students in Art History at the University of Delaware gathered to discuss how our discipline has furthered anti-Blackness and white supremacy by perpetuating (neo)colonial and racist paradigms. During this early period of organizing, we (the authors) volunteered to act as coordinators for these efforts, and to represent a broader group of students in communication with the faculty and university. As part of these initial conversations, the graduate students formulated both short-term and long-term direct actions that we could take to address systemic inequities within our department and field, and identified teaching as one of the ways in which we could immediately further anti-racism in our university and community.
Teaching is one of the most important services that the graduate students in Art History provide to the University of Delaware community. Students from across the university enroll in ARTH153 and ARTH154, our survey sequence, to fulfill breadth and multicultural curriculum requirements. These high-enrollment courses, however, present a Western-centric narrative of Art History complemented by traditional methods of teaching and testing that follow what Paulo Freire has described as a “banker model of education.”1 Revising the content and structure of the courses remains a long-term goal of the Department of Art History. To take immediate action, however, the graduate students sought support to develop anti-oppression teaching practices in their own classrooms as we lead sections and teach courses.
Responding to our concerns, the chair of the Department of Art History organized a single session on anti-racist teaching with Dr. Adam Foley in the fall of 2020. Prior to that workshop, the only pedagogical training offered to graduate students (within the memory of those still enrolled) was the pedagogy section that teaching assistants for ARTH153-154 were required to attend. These sections, led by the instructor of record, have traditionally provided an overview of the content that the lectures will cover each week and rarely, if ever, discussed teaching philosophies, pedagogical methods, or other classroom practices. In the absence of formal training, teaching assistants for Survey and other courses learned by doing, mimicking the practices of faculty who themselves learned how to teach by observing faculty when they were graduate students. Importantly, this system of replication does not provide space for critical reflection, creativity, and innovation.
Reflecting on the systemic inequities that were highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd, the graduate students have expressed a desire for concrete answers to questions ranging from how to avoid calling trans students by their dead names, to how to structure class discussions to treat students as co-conspirators in learning and knowledge production rather than passive receptacles. The way we teach and what we teach affects a wider network of actors beyond our small cohort of graduate students whether we approach our praxis critically or not. Many of us will enter either academia or the museum world where we will continue to play a role as educators. Securing this training, as a result, affects not just our own trajectories but those of the students and scholars who follow
1 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005.
us. As the Antiracism Co-Liaisons for Art History, we thus sought the resources of the UD Anti-Racism Initiative to support our efforts in developing teaching practices that centered the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
Outline of events
The series of three guest speaker workshops and culminating event with Dr. Foley provided Art History graduate students, as well as students from other disciplines and faculty, with an opportunity to learn from leaders in our field about innovative pedagogical praxis within the classroom and in the museum. The first three sessions with outside guests were open to both students and faculty members. We solicited suggestions for speakers from the broader cohort of Art History graduate students and then created a poll to identify the most popular pick. We prioritized inviting BIPOC speakers from a variety of fields and disciplines. Each of the sessions took place over Zoom due to COVID-19.
Dr. Rachel Grace Newman, Assistant Professor of Art History at Temple University, led our first session on April 9, 2021. A poly-hyphenate academic, artist, and curator, Dr. Newman sent out four readings in advance of our meeting that she considered essential to anti-oppressive teaching practices. During the session, she gave a brief overview of each reading before opening the floor to questions. The discussion ranged from efforts to expand the canon of Art History, to the production of knowledge and modes of learning – including Art History’s traditional emphasis on rote memorization and identification – to offering students the opportunity to produce creative final projects, rather than relying on final papers. To decolonize her syllabi, Dr. Newman teaches thematically rather than chronologically to deconstruct Eurocentric narratives.
Our second session on April 16, 2021 was with Dr. Cord Whitaker, Associate Professor of Wellesley College and a specialist in Medieval Art and Literature. His recently published book, Black Metaphors: How Modern Racism Emerged from Medieval Race-Thinking, traces the origins of racialized thinking to metaphors used in medieval literature. During this workshop, Dr. Whitaker shared his own academic trajectory as a Black man in higher education and described his philosophy of teaching, which includes offering students feedback on drafts of writing. The most productive part of the workshop involved thinking through the concept of mastery, where it applied, and where it could not.
Two museum educators, Wendy Ng and Syrus Marcus Ware, led our third public session on April 23, 2021. Wendy Ng is an education specialist and advocate for equity currently working at the Ontario Science Centre with experience at a wide range of museum institutions. Syrus Marcus Ware, Assistant Professor at the School of the Arts at McMaster University, is an activist, visual artist, curator, academic, and educator. They both worked together at the Art Gallery of Ontario and have continued as collaborators since leaving the institution. As museum educators, they constantly think intentionally about pedagogy and community engagement in ways that often escape academic departments. They particularly emphasized the importance of working directly with community stakeholders and producing content that responded directly to community needs. This was perhaps the most dynamic of the three workshops, as Ng and Ware offered insight that was applicable to students pursuing careers paths in the museum field and in academia.
Our final workshop on May 7, 2021 with Dr. Adam Foley was limited to Art History graduate students in order to encourage open dialogue and candid conversation. To begin the session, Dr. Foley shared a PowerPoint presentation that he developed in his capacity as Director of Diversity Education, Assessment, & Outreach, in the Office of Equity and Inclusion at the University of Delaware. This longer workshop provided an opportunity for graduate students to gather and discuss how to implement the ideas gathered at the earlier workshops. We focused on three separate phases of teaching: preparation, execution, and reflection. We began the session by discussing objects used for teaching in pairs. The purpose of the exercise was to reconsider our own practices and assumptions about what education looks like. Participants discussed different approaches to teaching in the classroom, assignment structure, assessment, and expressing positionality as an instructor. Perhaps most importantly, however, this final session provided space for graduate students to think through questions and issues that they had run into during their own prior teaching experience at the University of Delaware.
During our series of pedagogical events, it became increasingly evident that working to move away from Western-centric models means developing teaching methods and assignments that treat students as co-conspirators in the classroom. Over the course of the workshops, we discussed the myriad ways in which instructors can make space for students’ own experience and expertise as valid knowledge in the classroom. Doing so often requires vulnerability from the instructor. These workshop sessions provided space for reflection on our own subject-positions and motivations to teach. Our discourse asked: Why do we share knowledge? What drives us to participate in knowledge production? How can sharing our backgrounds and subject positions inform our teaching? And how can we base our teaching processes in reciprocity and relationality rather than mastery and expertise?
In the end, we concluded that graduate students, like faculty members, need spaces to critique their own practices and experiences in the classroom in order to grow and develop as educators. In the Department of Art History, these moments of reflection often happen informally: in coffee shops, hallways, and the graduate student lounges. These conversations remain valuable but insufficient. Anti-bias, anti-racist, and diversity and inclusion training sessions are important. But perhaps even more important are spaces set aside to admit difficulty in the classroom, discuss places we might have gone wrong, and discuss better practices for the future. Based on our experience this past semester, we believe that similar events should be held across the University at least 1-2 times per semester to support graduate student development as both human-beings and instructors. Moving forward, we will collaborate with faculty and graduate students in other departments – such as History, English, and Africana Studies – as we seek to develop anti-racist and anti-oppressive training for graduate students throughout the University. We propose to learn from not only the experience of senior scholars, but also other graduate students, and to work together on issues surrounding race, class, and gender in the classroom. These could be inter-departmental sessions organized by UDARI or through organizations like the Center for Material Culture Studies or the Graduate College. Although each discipline has specific challenges, we can all learn from one another as we critically reflect on how to do better.
UDARI’s generous funding allowed us to experiment with different ways to meet pedagogical training needs for graduate students. These efforts should not, however, be temporary. Anti-racism and anti-colonialism take continual reflection and revision. If we are to uphold the commitments we have made as an institution and as individuals, this process of learning from our collective experiences must be incorporated into our institutional practices. We owe doing so both to ourselves and to our students.