The Meredith Anti-Racism Effort, Part 2: Faculty and Staff
The Meredith community has been receiving emails about the anti-racism initiative periodically throughout the semester. Faculty and staff have been offered the opportunity to participate in anti-racism work and Groundwater training through the Racial and Equity Institute, are working with the Universities Studying Slavery consortium and are participating in several other efforts. On Aug. 21, President Jo Allen announced that Dr. Amie Hess, Department Head of Sociology and Criminology, Dr. Alexandra Howell, Assistant Professor of Fashion Merchandising and Design, and Dr. Shannon Gravelle, Director of Choral Activities and Music Education Coordinator, have been leading twice monthly sessions directed at making curricula more inclusive and equitable. This article will continue the Meredith Anti-Racism Effort series and will focus on the work Dr. Hess, Dr. Howell and Dr. Gravelle have been doing during these sessions and their hopes about its outcome.
The language that best describes the goal of their initiative is to decolonize the curriculum on campus. What that means is “de-centering the white, Eurocentric approach, hopefully, to our curriculum and our classrooms,” in Dr. Gravelle’s words. Dr. Hess said that this is a trend that has been happening in the world of academia for decades, especially in the regions that have had the most impact in colonization, mainly Europe and Great Britain. During these sessions, Dr. Hess said that staff and faculty ask the question of, “What are the policies and procedures and messages that are given out to students, and how do they reflect this kind of white Eurocentric understanding of what knowledge is, who knowledge is for, how knowledge is created?” Staff and faculty break into discussions and think about the topic and how that knowledge can be implemented in their own classrooms. Some of the topics that they have discussed or plan to discuss are attendance policies, professionalism, camera policies, financial requirements and others. Dr. Howell said that they hope a byproduct of the sessions will be that they create “an inclusive curriculum [that] centralizes thoughts, ideas and perspectives that are traditionally left on the periphery or were labeled as an alternative.” When asked why the anti-racism initiative has only begun now and why she joined this effort, Dr. Gravelle stated that “the majority of our faculty is white and I think it’s really easy to ignore what’s not constantly weighing on you,” but since “I came to Meredith in 2016…I’ve been having conversations about equity with various faculty and staff since then.”
Currently, these sessions are not mandatory for faculty and staff. According to Dr. Gravelle, this is mainly because the three professors leading them are not trained in this area. “We are three white women who are trying to talk about equity who don’t have lived experience. We are also very aware of our blindspots and our shortcomings and what we’re providing is not sufficient,” she went on to say. When President Allen was asked about the sessions not being mandatory, she stated “that is not a presidential issue — it is a matter for the faculty, deans, and provost who have the authority for instruction to ensure respect for shared governance and academic freedom.” However, though the faculty in the conversations are not professionally trained, that does not mean that their work in providing a space for these conversations isn’t valid. “This will be an ongoing process that has to happen continually so that we are constantly examining the focus of our classes,” said Dr. Howell.
As staff, they want students to know that they are not the only ones asking for change. There are people truly trying to do the work, even if they do it imperfectly. Faculty and staff are also included in this ongoing commitment to rethinking policies to their own disciplines on campus.
The previous article in this series can be found here. There will be more articles forthcoming, including an interview with the Dean of Students, President Allen, alumnae and others.
By Jeanine Carryl, Staff Writer