New program focusing on addressing racial issues through American culture to start in spring

“Race and the American Story” will pilot as a one-hour topics course in the spring semester.

Faculty from the department of black studies, the Kinder Institute and the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity are joining forces to start “Race and the American Story,” a one-credit hour course that plans on tackling racial issues in America through literary analyses, readings and class discussions.

Slated to start in the spring semester, this class will also feature a guest speaker series covering class topics. According to an article written by faculty who started the program, these lectures are designed to benefit the students and the greater community.

“We want to reach out to more people in subsequent years,” said Adam Seagrave, associate political science professor. “We want it to become a real community for students where they feel like they belong.”

The class will be divided into five sections, each taught by faculty from the three different departments. The course material will cover readings from many prominent figures including Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Sojourner Truth, Zora Neale Hurston and Frederick Douglass.

According to black studies department chair Stephanie Shonekan, students will be expected to write self-reflection essays, literary analyses and compile songs for a playlist based on the various readings. In an effort to track their personal growth throughout the course, students are expected to document their experiences and beliefs in journals.

The idea for this program came to Seagrave in response to the two-hour Citizenship@Mizzou program all new students must attend. Segrave took the idea to Shonekan, who agreed that a course that delves into the issues presented at the Citizenship@Mizzou program more deeply is needed.

“There was frustration from my part and the students’ as well that two hours wasn’t really enough to get into the issues,” Shonekan said. “We thought that this would be a great way to carry that conversation and really apply it in an intellectual way.”

Shonekan and Seagrave saw the program as an opportunity to extend the discussion that Citizenship@Mizzou offers into a program that lasts for a whole semester, in an effort to magnify its impact and try to change campus culture in a more pervasive way, Seagrave said.

After hashing the idea out over lunch one day, Shonekan and Seagrave developed a syllabus, took it to the deans and directors of their respective departments and talked it over with Kevin McDonald, vice chancellor of the Department of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity. Once everything was approved, the class was officially cross-listed as a topics course between black studies, history and political science.

The idea of bringing different departments together for this project stems from the concept of interdisciplinary education. Shonekan and Seagrave hope that bringing students from different sections will add varying perspectives and ultimately unite them in addressing the topic of race.

“We’re both very passionate about changing campus culture and promoting understanding between different groups on campus, especially between white and black America,” Seagrave said. “We have to build bridges, and this is one way we can do that.”

Both Seagrave and Shonekan cite changing MU campus culture as a primary goal of this project. Given the series of protests that occurred on campus in 2015, Shonekan said the university is an ideal location for open discussion on how to combat racially charged issues.

“Discourse is key,” Shonekan said. “We’re all searching for ways to engage in the subject in a way that’s reflective of the campus that we want.”

Edited by Sarah Hallam |

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