by REBECCA PARADA
On Sept. 30, UMW introduced a new one-credit course, U.S. Racism and Reality Forum. The class is a special eight-week course taught by Dr. Kimberly Gower and Dr. Jason James. More than 200 students enrolled when the class was announced. The course focuses on race and racism and, unlike most classes, the forum brings different presenters every week to discuss a different topic involving race. These presenters include UMW professors who specialize in issues of race and racism, as well as journalists, advocates and students.
The creation of the course came as a result of the attention that began earlier in the summer with the rise in the Black Lives Matter movement. During the summer of 2020, the issues of racism, discrimination and inequality received heightened attention throughout the United States. Increased mobilization for change and awareness broke out in various forms including protests and fund-raising. Many students participated in protests in Fredericksburg.
The class was created to support students, staff and faculty by providing a safe space for learning and promoting further discussion on issues of racism.
“We wanted to do several things with the class: try to address potential gaps in knowledge, but also provide students with a space for reflection and discussion, as well as practice in having hard conversations and a greater understanding of how they might help make change,” said James, an associate professor of anthropology at Mary Washington.
The course strives to educate and bring awareness to students and encourage them to learn about social justice and how to advocate for Black people and other minority groups. Race and racism are sensitive topics and may cause discomfort among some students. However, to support a safe environment for students to discuss these issues and share their experiences, the course follows UMW’s ASPIRE speak guidelines, advising students to be open minded on new issues, be respectful of other opinions, engaging in new conversations and challenging them to seek better understanding. The class allows the open flow of discussion, opinions, and experiences through interaction with other students, presenters and professors.
One of the topics covered in the first week of the forum was racism present Virginia laws. Dr. Krystyn Moon, professor of history and American studies, led the discussion of education and housing laws in Virginia and the history of Virginia.
“The housing issue started before the Civil War and the education immediately after and because of that it’s almost baked into public education and housing that you have social inequalities,” said Moon. “I wanted to make sure we drilled down and tried to get into the material reality of how racial formation and inequalities play out in everyday life, and that’s why I wanted to focus on education and housing but also talk about state laws, federal laws, or court cases these all have material impact on people’s lives.”
Those taking the course say they are offered the opportunity to expand their knowledge on race and gain new insights.
“This course is an important resource because the students that are taking this course want to know more about the whitewash behind racism and why we haven’t [learned] more from our K-12 education system about these topics,” said sophomore music major Hailey Amick.
At time of publication, the registrar’s office does not know if the course will be continued in future semesters.
“As far as future courses, I believe that some faculty are working on a three-credit class for the spring that would address a wider array of issues related to inequality and oppression, but I do not know the details,” said James.
UMW offers a wide array of courses that delve deeper into these topics; both the sociology and anthropology departments offer various classes that are more focused and cover a wider range of issues within racism and reality.
For students that were not able to join the course or want to gain further information on the topics of race and racism, there are other opportunities to do so.
“There are also really good programs offered through the James Farmer Multicultural Center that provide opportunities for learning and discussion, so even if the course does not continue in the current form, there are many opportunities for students to work on issues of race and racism,” said James.