Something interesting happened this week in class. We read some discussion board posts and unpacked ideas while we were together in class. Two students posted about the same unique themes. Their statements were profound and thoughtfully written. I asked each of them explain to the class why they wrote the answers they did. These two students spoke in class for about the same amount of time.
So when quiz time came, I had a question that asked students to look at the discussion board for that specific theme. Their task was to identify the two students who had made posts about the theme. The quiz was open notes, open book, open Canvas, you name it.
The question had them choosing from a list of multiple possibilities. 2 of those possibilities weren’t students. The incorrect choices were Jenna Wortham (a woman who is the host of a podcast we listen to as part of the course materials) and Marcel Danesi (the author of our textbook) Of the 2 correct choices one post was written by a student whose family is from Eastern Europe. The other was written by a Black student.
I am floored by the outcomes. My class is culturally diverse with a wide range of representation. MOST (more than 90%) students only got half credit on the question. They correctly chose the Eastern European (white) student’s name and either selected no other choices or selected a wrong other choice. ALL of the students who selected an incorrect name from the list chose Marcel Danesi. This has perplexed me. As I went through grading a fear struck me. I worried that I would get to the Black student who had this profound insight and that student would not recognize their (pronoun selected for anonymity) own work. Thankfully, they did.
So as I wrapped up grading I asked myself what I was observing and how I would describe it. I asked myself if I could do that in a way that was non-judgmental and effective. I am observing a pattern of racial exclusion or invisibility. I am observing that no students selected the femme gendered name. I am observing that I have emotions and thoughts related to this incident. I am describing those emotions and thoughts as fear, concern, inclusivity-focused and a need to establish mutual respect and recognition in our class.
I am adding ideas to these observations and descriptions. These include the early stage of the semester, the intensity of implicit and unconscious bias in our society, the difficulty of paying attention while learning during a pandemic, and my own experiences make me sensitive to issues like this.
Now comes the non-judging part. I am allowed to judge how I feel. I mean I didn’t feel light and free as I graded these quiz answers. I felt burdened and constrained. I owe it to myself to say that felt bad. I will not judge my class or myself. I am choosing to see this as an opportunity. I’ll introduce more scholars of color. I’ll show up, love, and affirm my students. I’ll remember that I matter. I’ll teach. I will teach.