The Bertha Crosley Ball Center for Compassion

Anti-Racism Institute: About Us

As Kimberlé Crenshaw writes, “Every established discipline in the academy has an origin that entails engagement and complicity with white supremacy” (5). And yet, few disciplines have yet to fully reckon with these entanglements, let alone teach their future disciples how to do so in their scholarship or in their classrooms. Academia has yet to acknowledge the need to address these issues systemically, let alone undertake the task of training our future faculty in how to facilitate such challenging discussions in a classroom setting. Further complicating this is the fact that faculty training in graduate programs often focuses on discipline-specific knowledge acquisition, rather than on teaching and praxis. If we want our faculty to address issues of equity and justice, then we need to invest in the support and training needed to do this well. 

 

Our training programs are unique in that they are grounded in the understanding that to truly move this work forward, we must first build our individual and collective emotional stamina. Racism and colonization were created and sustained in a relational setting, where one group of people were privileged over others. To undo this, antiracism and decolonizing work also needs to be grounded in relationships. This involves faculty members becoming aware of their own positionality and sociocultural location, and for white and white adjacent groups to acknowledge--and to understand--the advantages it offers them. This self-understanding is a key part in the development of an antiracist lens; thus, our training programs are designed using a cohort model, where groups of faculty members engage in intensive training and peer support regularly, and in person, throughout a full academic year.

 

Creating a cohort of peers who grow to share the same understanding and language around the work allows a level of comfort so that faculty members can cultivate an awareness of their own positionality and emotional investment in the work, and to be honest in the challenges, mistakes, and unhelpful reactions they encounter as they implement anti-oppression goals in the classroom. This foundation is necessary for cultivating relationships with students as faculty members design and facilitate anti-oppression conversations in the classroom. Peer support in this process provides a space for faculty members to discuss and understand their own reactions to difficult classroom conversations. This provides a space for troubleshooting and will (we hope) result in classroom contexts that are better situated to support students and avoid some of the pitfalls discussed above. While focused on faculty, our programming is centered on creating productive student and faculty relationships in the classroom as a critical building block of anti-oppression work. 

 

What we do 

At the Antiracism Institute, we create intensive programming for faculty who are interested in deepening their antiracist and anti-oppressive praxis, and workshop series for faculty who are interested in content-specific antiracist and anti-oppressive pedagogies and classroom practices. Our approach focuses not only on curriculum revision but also on re-envisioning and reinvigorating interdisciplinary humanities study through deep engagement with antiracist and anti-oppressive self-study, pedagogy, and scholarship. In our experience, faculty are interested in redesigning their curricula but not necessarily in challenging the oppressive/racist underpinnings of their disciplines. We need time and commitment to lean into this work. This approach helps us seed the ground for moving the institution forward in terms of antiracism and anti oppression.

 

Who We Are

We are associate professors at the University of Southern Maine, an institution that serves primarily first-generation, low-income students from a variety of marginalized backgrounds. Our students are international/immigrant/asylee/refugee-seeking; they are veterans, they are non-traditional students, students with disabilities, etc. Our investment in antiracist and anti-oppressive pedagogies is inspired by our students, who have challenged us to re-shape our university curricula, systems, and practices to meet their unique needs. Within the academy, students and faculty are racialized not just in the classroom but also within the structures of the university institution itself. 

 

We are uniquely positioned to do this work. We co-design and co-lead antiracist seminars, workshops, and intensives for faculty and staff. For three years, we led a two-week Summer Antiracism Intensive for university faculty at USM. This past year, we also led a year-long antiracist curriculum development project for alumni of our summer intensive. We also facilitate antiracist workshop series outside of our university: we have created intensives for faculty and administrators at a variety of institutions including Emerson College, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, and Regional School Unit 23 in Old Orchard Beach, ME. We are currently leading a training series for the Portland City Council and staff.