Anti-racist Pedagogy: What, Why and How?
By Horane Diatta-Holgate
Anti-racist pedagogy is an approach to teaching which centers the impact of racial histories and cultural experiences within and outside academic spaces. This approach prioritizes institutional and social change, requiring instructors to critically reflect not only on what they teach but how they teach. Anti-racist teaching is important because it positions both instructors and students as agents of change towards a more just society. Adopting an anti-racist approach to teaching and learning is one way to begin addressing the institutional and systemic failures that undermine student success. Additionally, this approach prepares graduates with attitudes, skills, and knowledge to enact the structural changes necessary to build a more just society.
Engaging in anti-racist teaching requires defining and describing the dimensions of racism – interpersonal, social/cultural, institutional and systemic. By distinguishing among the dimensions of racism, we are able to structure learning experiences for and with students that move beyond simply describing racist acts between people (i.e. at the interpersonal dimension) and towards examining the systems and structures that shape policies and practices. An anti-racist classroom environment is characterized by both instructors and students engaging in an intentional process to:
- Identify and remove barriers to inclusive engagement;
- Critique and interrogate disciplinary norms and practices;
- Reflect on and resist language, structures and practices that marginalize, exclude or erase the experiences and contributions of people who identify within minoritized racial/ethnic communities (Black, Brown, Mixed, Indigenous, Asian etc.);
- Empower individuals as well as groups who have been and are being disenfranchised by policies and practices in society; and
- Equip students with the ability to use disciplinary knowledge and skills to develop more equitable and just policies and practices across institutional structures that marginalize various racial/ethnic groups.
How to Engage in Anti-racist Teaching?
One does not simply become an anti-racist instructor and then stop. Anti-racist teaching is an on-going reflective and developmental process. This process begins with instructors taking time to critically reflect on their disciplinary and pedagogical approaches.
From this reflection, instructors will then be able to take intentional actions towards adopting an anti-racist approach in how they design and facilitate courses. The following principles and strategies provide guidelines and suggestions to start or continue the process of being more anti-racist in our teaching. Consider starting with at least two of the five principles below and explore the strategies provided.
1. Improving vocabulary.
Review and reflect on important terminology related to anti-racism (e.g. institutional racism, implicit bias, microaggression etc). Being aware of and having some understanding of the vocabulary will provide a crucial foundation for both personal growth and our work as anti-racist teachers.
2. Develop critical self-awareness.
Taking time to critically reflect on our social position, identity, and pedagogical practices as we engage in syllabus design, choose class content, and identify class activities and assignments. This is an iterative process that should be done at the end and the beginning of a new semester/term. Consider the following questions:
- How does my social identity inform/shape my pedagogy and practices?
- How am I planning and implementing strategies for effectively teaching all learners?
- What accountability measures are in place for me to assess my cultural competency growth?
Seek out opportunities to reflect on and assess the ways in which your personal and cultural rules and biases impact your engagement with people from different backgrounds – what is my current level of cultural competence or intelligence and how might that be impacting my approach to teaching and learning?
3. Cultivate an inclusive community.
This applies in our classrooms and departments. Humans have a basic psychological need to feel connected to others as well as a desire to feel like our social identities are valued and respected. By taking the time to learn about our students, providing opportunities for students to know each other as well as sharing aspects of who we are with students, is important to establish the learning environment as a place where all are welcome and belong. In the context of a course, this involves understanding how students’ prior experiences have shaped their approach to learning and attending college in general. This provides insights into the knowledge and skills students lack, and helps us decide how to effectively teach them and adjust activities. Ways to cultivate an inclusive classroom community include:
- Sharing our personal journey into the discipline, as well as stories about life experiences;
- Administering a pre-course survey a week before classes start or the first week of classes to learn about student experiences and interests (academic, personal, professional aspirations);
- Learning each other’s name and proper pronunciation using tools such as name tents and NameCoach whether in a small or large class.
- In the context of a department or institution, engaging in committees and interdisciplinary faculty learning communities around readings related to inclusive teaching, anti-racist pedagogy and other pedagogical approaches in order to learn about how others approach teaching in different disciplines which may apply to our own classrooms.
4. Examine and interrogate privilege and power.
Facilitate discussions that help students critically reflect on their own privilege, as well model for them ways in which power can be shared.
- For example, everyone in the class has the shared privilege of being in a college classroom.
- Invite students to co-create aspects of the course with you to model sharing power in the classroom. Examples: Co-create classroom norms and guidelines, co-write exam questions or choice in assessments or co-create assignment rubrics.
Within our respective disciplines, it is important to share with students the ways of knowing and practices used by scholars and practitioners. Additionally, provide opportunities to reflect on the history and rationales for different practices, and invite students to interrogate them when possible. This will help students develop disciplinary and professional identity as they learn about how people in their discipline and the profession engage with topics and concepts. Additionally, it allows students and instructors an opportunity to develop innovative ways and practices of moving the discipline toward more inclusive and just practices where needed. As we engage with the content of our discipline these guiding questions provide a place to start this reflective process:
- Who benefits from specific policies and practices?
- Which groups are being excluded?
- Who has a voice in decision making?
This involves structuring the course and learning experiences such that students develop confidence and agency in their learning, as well as the capacity to act on behalf of those affected by inequality and injustices.
Individual Empowerment: In addition to a psychological need to feel connected to others, humans also have basic psychological needs to feel they have choice – autonomy – in their actions, as well as a need to feel like they are improving in knowledge and skills – competence. Finding ways to incorporate students’ voices in shaping the course and providing choices where possible allows students to take ownership of their own learning and enact agency. Additionally, engaging in activities that provide optimal challenge for students along with support, encourages quality motivation and persistence with assigned tasks. For example using:
Low stakes formative assessments provide students and instructors with insights into knowledge and skills gained as well as those lacking. These assessments also provide feelings of self-efficacy and growth which empower students to persist.
Collective Empowerment: This involves helping students connect the course content to their interests, cultural backgrounds and issues affecting marginalized communities with respect to age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, geographic location etc. For example:
Allowing students to choose a topic of interest, or to research and present current events to the class, provides a space for collaboration, identifying shared interests and meaningful dialogue.
Creating opportunities for students to work together with community partners on projects that increase their awareness of structural inequities in specific areas such as health, income, educational access, and food security gives them a meaningful chance to apply the knowledge and skills gained in the course.
In addition to increasing student awareness, such opportunities allow students to propose strategies and develop resources that provide equitable opportunities and outcomes for the most vulnerable in society. As students reflect on these experiences, they develop attitudes that will empower them to use their disciplinary knowledge and skills to not just resist injustice but actively cultivate a more just society.
Although applying anti-racist principles and strategies may seem daunting or anxiety inducing at times, remember it is an on-going process. Just take your next step, start small.
Resources and References
Adams, M., Bell, L.A., Goodman, D.J., Shlasko, D., Briggs, R.R., & Pacheco, R. (Eds.). (2022). Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (4th ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003005759
bell hooks (1994). Teaching to Transgress See review
Kishimoto, Kyoko (2018) Anti-racist pedagogy: from faculty’s self-reflection to organizing within and beyond the classroom, Race Ethnicity and Education, 21(4) 540-554. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2016.1248824
Usman, F (2023). Anti-Racism, EDI and Positionality in Teaching and Learning. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.
Leary, A. (2023) Principles and Strategies for Inclusive Language in Class Environments. ND Learning|Kaneb Center for Teaching Excellence
Diatta-Holgate, H.A. (2023). Inclusive Course Design: What Why How? ND Learning|Kaneb Center for Teaching Excellence
Diatta-Holgate, H.A. (2023). Facilitating Inclusive Dialogues. ND Learning|Kaneb Center for Teaching Excellence