New #BlackLivesMatter class to cover race, violence

by Katie Rafter | 2/2/15 6:50pm

The geography department and African and African-American studies program are introducing a new course for the upcoming spring term called “10 Weeks, 10 Professors: #BlackLivesMatter,” dedicated to considering race, structural inequality and violence in both a historical and modern context.

About 15 Dartmouth professors will teach separate sections of the class from different academic disciplines over the course of the term. Professors teaching this course come from over 10 academic departments and programs, including anthropology, history, women’s and gender studies, mathematics and English, among others.

Geography professor Abigail Neely said that the idea to create this course stemmed from a Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning workshop, which urged faculty to incorporate the 2014 events in Ferguson, Missouri, culminating in the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the unarmed shooting of Michael Brown, into their various courses.

“We just thought that it might be interesting and innovative and exciting to have a course that’s dedicated to this, whereas lots of other people are incorporating it into other courses,” Neely said.

English professor Aimee Bahng said when she was writing the syllabi for her winter term courses, she felt it was imperative that she incorporate the events into her curriculum.

Bahng said that by teaching the new course, the faculty hope to create a culture of learning that goes beyond the classroom and cultivate a discussion amongst scholars about questions of race in America.

The course will approach this and other social issues from a number of different disciplines, which will give students who take the course the opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary discussions firsthand, Bahng said.

Neely said that the course will break down barriers between different disciplines, a goal an institution like Dartmouth is designed to achieve.

She said that the faculty hope to not only place Ferguson in a temporal context, but also to highlight that it was not an isolated incident in the United States or around the world.

Bahng said they want to use Ferguson as a teaching opportunity.

“We hope students will be able to understand that Ferguson is not just an event in 2014, but something that’s tethered in time to a long history and still-emerging ideas about race in the U.S. and how policing works in an age of social media and distributed surveillance,” Bahng said.

Geography department chair Susanne Freidberg said that the interdisciplinary structure should have broad appeal and provide a way for students to approach an issue that might seem to be only sociological or political, and see that there are also things to be learned about it from other viewpoints, such as from a religious or geographical perspective.

“I hope that for the students it will provide an opportunity to learn and talk about things that might seem very far away from Dartmouth but affect a lot of people in the country, and to do so with a lot of different professors,” she said.

Anthropology professor Chelsey Kivland said this is an opportunity “to use Ferguson as a starting point for broadening the conversation about the national problems of inequality, race and violence.”

Kivland teaches the “Ethnography of Violence” course in the anthropology department and spends a week during the course discussing police brutality. She said she was motivated to participate in teaching the new course because this is material that she already teaches and feels is important.

History professor Annelise Orleck, who will also be teaching a section of the class, said that the professors involved saw the events in Ferguson as being important enough to require prolonged discussion.

Orleck said it is important that as the Black Lives Matters movement builds, classroom discussion be rooted in history. She will be working to create a sense of historical context and perspective on issues of urban inequality and policing, as well as the community response to these issues.

Kevin Gillespie ’15, the president of the Dartmouth chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the course seems to be exactly what the College needs in regard to raising awareness.

He said the course is relevant to issues the NAACP has been focused on recently.

“Courses like these are extremely important, and they get us all out of our comfort zones, whether you’re taking the course or not, because people will be talking about it,” Gillespie said.

The NAACP organized a “Black Lives Matter” protest and die-in in Baker-Berry Library on Jan. 15 that had about 40 participants. Over the winter interim period, Dartmouth students, faculty and community members led two separate demonstrations, one against police brutality on Hanover’s Main Street and the other as part of the National White Coat Die-in at the Geisel School of Medicine.