While grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing racialized, anti-Black violence, uprisings around the nation have launched anti-racism into popular consciousness and discourse. In higher education, many statements of solidarity with Black lives have been made with few structural changes offered or enacted. This essay positions instructional design as a material act that extends the organizing logic of education to learners and students (Harney & Moten, 2013) and offers anti-racism as a multimodal framework for instructional design centered upon dismantling the organizing logics of white supremacy and building liberatory possibilities, especially for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). The essay directs these questions and concerns to a case study, the Creative Discovery Fellows program (CDF) at U.C. Berkeley.
This essay positions anti-racism pedagogy as a model of instructional design that seeks liberatory possibilities for students, instructors, and designers. Many attempts have been made to locate and situate anti-racism and anti-racism pedagogy in an historical and disciplinary context. For the purposes of this essay, we offer the following definition: anti-racism is a systematic project seeking the reconfiguration and transformation of power, value, and resources that begins with identifications of conditions, constraints, and consolidation within a given system; it is a materialist intervention. Anti-racism instructional design entails both rhetorical and infrastructural critiques, considering the relationship of part to whole, person to system, or individual to individuation; specifically, how one circulates and reconstitutes the other. That is, racism is inextricably linked to other systems of power and oppression, whose influence and dominance manifests in parallel hierarchies of difference, such as gender and sexuality. Relations, however ossified in appearance, remain dynamic, metastable, and co-constitutive; therein lies what Weheliye (2014, p. 2) calls “racializing assemblages”, or a reticulated space to maneuver, disrupt, and configure new possibilities - through instructional design.
Our inquiry centers on the following two questions; First, how do educators and students co-construct the disassembly of structural racism, inequity, and privilege while working within the constraints of higher education? Second, how might instructional design reflect multimodal political complexity and oppressive logics embedded in education while preserving utility and promoting effective teaching and learning strategies? We start by excavating the material situations surrounding instructional design in its attempts to create instructional models that correspond to material life. Here, we draw attention to the complexity, accuracy, and utility of these models, and consider to what extent they represent a racialized version of education. Next, this essay examines how anti-racism pedagogy reframes teaching as the organizing logics of domination, that is, white supremacy. Then, the essay identifies four principles of anti-racism pedagogy that may help to reconstitute the organizing logics of instruction away from interlocking systems of oppression, or what Collins (1990, p. 230) refers to as “the matrix of domination.” The essay seeks to examine applications of the four principles into design practices employed by Creative Discovery Fellows program’s (CDF) curriculum hub. CDF is part of the American Cultures Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and works across disciplinary boundaries to support equity-based learning outcomes by centering antiracist content. Lastly, the essay considers the liberatory possibilities anti-racism pedagogy may offer instructional design.
Positioning: The Materiality of Instructional Design
The movement from liberatory potential to liberatory possibility begins with an understanding of materiality, a multimodal awareness of how structure and system influence instruction. It may be helpful to think of liberatory potential as an imaginative exercise that exists primarily in a cognitive or discursive realm. Examples of liberatory potential might include applying theoretical frameworks to see current design models differently, redesigning logic models, or introducing new perspectives to field discourses. Much of our role as scholars investigates liberatory potential. In contrast, possibility refers to a material or structural change in the system of education that increases the mobility of its members and the circulation of its resources. Examples of liberatory possibility might include replacing merit-based grading systems with one centered on labor-based contracts, publishing perspectives and voices marginalized by education writ large, or allocating endowment funds to make space for an anti-racism research center. Potential is a matter of perspective and thus always present; for possibility to exist, it must be materialized. As such, a liberatory possibility involves a radical change to institutional structures at a classroom, department, or school-wide level.
Situating: Anti-Racism Strategies as Design Principles
Anti-racism pedagogy seeks to build liberatory possibilities for students. It is a contested project with a complicated history, a history and complexity that cannot be captured with all its nuance in this essay. For interested readers, selections such as Hooks’ (1989) Talking Back, Collins’ (1990) Black Feminist Thought, Wynter’s (2003) “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom,” Blakeney’s (2005) “Antiracist Pedagogy,” Leonardo’s (2009) Race, Whiteness, and Education, Weheliye’s (2014) Habeas Viscus, or Cheng’s (2019) Ornamentalism provide a detailed and nuanced account of those complexities. Below, the aspects of anti-racism relevant to the Creative Discovery Fellows program at UC Berkeley are described.
Anti-racism pedagogy creates liberatory possibilities while simultaneously dismantling the interlocking structures of domination —such as, white supremacy, neoliberalism, and, among many others, structural racism —embedded in education. Both vectors of effect —creating and dismantling —are foundational to anti-racism pedagogy and rooted in historical projects like the freedom schools of the mid-1960s (Kelley, 2018). Through the CDF program, anti-racism pedagogy is characterized by community-engaged, project-based learning, collaborative design, and co-constructed systems of value that uplift the cultural values of BIPOC school members and their communities.
While there is no formula for antiracist pedagogy, most practitioners share the following three overlapping strategies. One, practitioners seek to confront systemic oppression through instruction, design, and assessment. Two, practitioners locate precisely how and where systemic oppression functions within the material and structural conditions of the learning process (e.g., relational dynamics, assignment, assessment, exercise). Three, practitioners reconfigure the material conditions of the classroom (i.e., curriculum, relational dynamics) to build new possibilities for all learners and educators, not just the benefactors from oppression.
Mobilizing: Applications of Anti-Racism Pedagogy at UC Berkeley
The following section identifies four principles and four practices of anti-racism pedagogy operationalized by the CDF program at UC Berkeley in 2019-2021. (See Appendix A for more details.)
The Material Conditions Surrounding CDF
The CDF program formed in response to an inequity. While all Berkeley students pay for the Adobe Creative Cloud, only 14% of them use it. The software is a hidden cost bundled within tuition statements, and so most students are unaware of it. Further: there was a lack of support and scaffolding for students required to use the Adobe suite in classrooms. What emerged, then, was a situation in which all students paid for a service they didn’t know existed and weren’t trained to use. In response to this problem, a partnership formed between the Academic Innovation Studio (AIS) and the American Cultures Center (AC) to increase student access to the Adobe suite by providing technical support to instructors teaching AC courses and their students (See Appendix A). A private grant from the software company, Adobe, formalized this partnership in 2018.
To address the equity-gap, CDF employed an in-person cohort model that followed a twelve-month process moving AC instructors from course design and project development in semester one to implementation in semester two. Support centered on using innovative technology to amplify stories minoritized by dominant cultural frameworks. The fellowship supported a handful of instructors with both a stipend and pedagogical support that included three one-on-one consultations with the CDF team (i.e., design, scheduling, implementation), in-class demonstrations showing students how to use Adobe tools, and monthly workshops, which centered on different applications of technology, anti-racism pedagogy, and cross-disciplinary discussions.
The CDF team consists of teaching faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, university staff and administrators from fields as disparate as ethnic studies, data science, rhetoric, cognitive science, and law. None of our members are ladder-rank faculty, which means that we do not benefit from the institutional protections and privileges of tenure. Our status is peripheral to the symbolic and economic structures upholding an elite R1 university, which, consequently, positions anti-racism at UC Berkeley as an underfunded, fringe endeavor, flaunted but perennially underfunded — despite a near ubiquity of statements in support of Black lives across departments and administrative levels during summer 2020.
Stakes Surrounding Our Design Model
The structural and institutional circumstances surrounding CDF have directly informed our theorization of instructional design: design is a relational act that emerges from within a situational context and infrastructure that limit radical pedagogy to their structural conditions. Thus, in seeking to disassemble power, instructional design must account for the position of designers, their relationship to power and range of control, the underlying symbolic and material circumstances that compose the teaching situation, and the limits of infrastructure that contain and constrains instructional design. For the CDF team, our lack of tenure and the dwindling financial support from the university has shrouded the future of CDF with uncertainty and precarity. As much as our shift from in-person consultations to two online hubs (i.e., curriculum and student-support) was a response to COVID-19 and the global pandemic, it was also in direct response to the ephemerality of our team and a collective desire for anti-racism to outlast our tenure at the university.
The CDF team has arrived at an understanding of anti-racism that derives from our circumstances, as much as it is informed by our theoretical training, which we have concretized into four principles and four practices below. These offerings are provocations designed to spark conversation; they are not intended as totalizing conclusions. Further, these strategies extend and leverage historical conversations endemic to BIPOC communities and more contemporary ones led by Black queer organizers.
Four Principles of Anti-Racism Pedagogy
Principle 1: Dynamic Modeling
The first principle of anti-racism pedagogy centers on structural dynamism, creating a learning model that quickly responds to the slippery machinations of racism. Gillborn (2006, p. 26) describes racism as “a complex, contradictory, and fast-changing: it follows that anti-racism must be equally dynamic.” CDF operates from an understanding that our education system is not broken, rather it is built to produce inequity. From its conception, the “American” classroom has served as an arm of industrialization and the white supremacist and settler colonial project of the United States (Melamed, 2006; Carl, 2009; Garside, 2020). Therefore, no amount of labor or reform can “fix” it. Disassembly is required for transformation.
Principle 2: Process-Oriented Pedagogies
A second principle centers on process-oriented pedagogies. Process is the political vector of pedagogy because it describes the relational dynamics positioned by learning and teaching. The emphasis of process-oriented learning and iterative design emerged organically among the multidisciplinary, cross-hierarchical CDF community. Process-oriented pedagogies facilitate student choice and learner development by attending to the mechanism, or how, of learning (Littlewood, 2009). We’ve expanded the idea of process to include the acts of curriculum and instructional design, collaborations among teachers, the relational dynamics between students and teachers, and student to student, the multiplicity of force relations imposed onto learning and carried into the classroom by students. In our application, process-oriented pedagogy takes on a stereoscopic form that emerges directly from the different ways our team members occupy space on campus.
Process-oriented learning differs from content-oriented strategies, such as the inclusion of diverse and underrepresented voices. On this distinction, Wagner (2005, p. 263) writes: “Content cannot be conveyed unless the process is first carefully developed and cultivated…what is most significant intellectually is not where we end up but how we go about getting there.” Extrapolating her critique into an anti-racism framework she describes how the process will create “a richer learning environment, as the learning occurs in an unusually deep manner as students are engaged at both a cognitive and affective level” (Wagner, 2005, p. 272). The centering of effect is a necessary challenge for anti-racism practitioners to take up, as conversations about positionality, power, and value acknowledge the emotional and sensational lives of students that are always present in the classroom, but seldom welcomed in or engaged pedagogically. An invitation to process-oriented learning, then, is also an invitation to recognize that students (and teachers and designers) are more than just cognitive beings, that emotions, sensations, and feelings are integral parts of learning.
Principle 3: Material Conditions & Relational Dynamics
Lynch et al. (2017) discovered that most anti-racism pedagogical peer-reviewed research centered and uplifted the experiences of white educators, white students, and white cultural projects. That is, Lynch et al. (2017) discovered that anti-racism endeavors are just as likely to reinforce white supremacy as non-antiracist strategies. For anti-racism practitioners, it becomes necessary to sit with two interrelated “discomfiting propositions” (Leonardo & Manning, 2015, p. 27) revealed by Lynch et al.’s research: well-intentioned design strategies intended to disrupt whiteness often uplift it; and more egregiously — many anti-racism projects uplift whiteness by co-opting Black imaginaries. As Givens (2021) demonstrates, anti-racism is endemic to the Black community for whom anti-Black violence is a material condition that is daily felt. The centrality of Black educators to the design and teaching process directly increases Black student mobility (Gershenson et al., 2018). What Lynch et al.’s research observes may be described as yet another appropriation of Black culture by whiteness, and perhaps yet another example of what Bell (1980) has referred to as interest convergence, where the advancement of BIPOC folx is encouraged so long as it affirms the supremacy of whiteness.
Our third principle foregrounds the material conditions surrounding BIPOC students and the relational dynamics that position them in subordinate, marginalized, or peripheral roles. Without such awareness, designers are likely to design for themselves (Carter & Goodwin, 1994; Bartolomè & Trueba, 2000), revert to the default conditions of whiteness (Manning & Leonardo, 2015), or extend the organizing logic white supremacy (Harney & Moten, 2013).
Principle 4: Accountability
Lastly, accountability to BIPOC stakeholders is necessary to ensure anti-racism delivers on its promises of structural and institutional change. Gillborn (2006) identifies a contradiction among practitioners that (painfully) recalls arguments against multiculturalism. “Anti-racism established its credentials by exposing the deeply conservative nature of approaches that struck liberatory postures but accepted the status quo and frequently encoded deficit perspectives of Black children, their parents, and communities” (Gibbons, 2006, p. 12). In other words, anti-racism benefits the institution. It has become institutionalized, expressing the logics of domination (i.e., Harney & Moten’s concept of the commons) entailed by the university instead of delivering on its liberatory promises.
The next section explores our attempts to mobilize these anti-racism principles into our praxis, by asking: how do we design a learning model that seeks to center community-based learning practices, uplift BIPOC students, and dismantle the matrix of domination, while working within the parameters of UC Berkeley? The following pages examine four practices that emerged from our discussions.
Four Practices of Anti-Racism Design
Our approach to anti-racism instructional design is two-fold. First, we developed a 15-week process-oriented, anti-racism curriculum applicable to cross-disciplinary instructors in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), social science, and the humanities that centers on dynamic antiracist learning activities. (See Appendix B.) Secondly, we created a student hub that supports students in American Cultures courses using the Adobe Creative Cloud. Our student hub integrates anti-racism principles into platform-based guides (e.g., “how to create a Spark presentation”). Underlying these two digital centers are four practices of anti-racism design discussed below.
Practice One. Accountability to BIPOC Communities
Learning doesn’t happen in a cultural vacuum; it occurs among people and their material circumstances. As educators, we are beholden to our stakeholdersato students and their communities, to our teaching teams and departments, to our disciplines and professional memberships, and to the institution of higher education. Our first—and overarching—anti-racism practice relates to community accountability.
First, we are accountable to our design team. We’ve approached instructional design as a collective activity and not an individual exercise. Our design team includes representatives from many of the stakeholders in higher education, from undergraduate and graduate students to instructors, program directors, and administrators; from humanities to STEM-based specialists.
Second, in addition to an array of different stakeholders on our design team, we’ve structured the process of design itself non-hierarchically; that is, we’ve attempted to challenge the very organizational logic of the university that positions research faculty above teaching faculty above students (and all the elided nuances in between). Each team member specializes in a particular aspect of the instructional process (e.g., student-facing Adobe tools support) that they contribute to building out. However, the instructional design process is collective, which means we are all bringing valuable insight and knowledge into the process, regardless of how we specialize. In this way, we are iterative and incorporate feedback into the process continuously. The desired outcome is to uplift and honor the multitudes of knowledge that stakeholders bring to the table from our various experiences and positionalities. Third, we are accountable to the students and instructors that we support. Our team collects qualitative and quantitative data from our Fellows, their graduate student instructors (GSIs), and their students through interviews, focus groups, student responses, reflections, and self-reporting, which we aggregate, analyze, and interpret based upon a design-based framework (Wang & Hannafin, 2005). The data we receive ensures that our methods are grounded in the material experiences of students and instructors; it also informs how we frame, position, and develop the curriculum and student hubs. From our research, we’ve found that the precipitating inequity, the lack of student engagement and understanding with the Adobe Creative Suite, was successfully addressed, as all students reported an increased aptitude upon completing participatory courses. (See Appendix E).
CDF Anti-Racism Practices
|(1) Accountability to BIPOC Communities||Designing with our specific stakeholders—that is, our students and their communities, our teaching teams and departments, and our disciplines and professional memberships.|
- Building a multiple-stakeholder design team
- Engaging community scholars
- Data-based self-reflection
- Integrating stakeholder feedback
|(2) Situational Awareness||Valuing our students’ experiences outside the classroom Designing with the situational factors that impact student learning process|
- Pre-survey of stakeholders
- Co-constructing the learning process with stakeholders
- Changing the referent of grades (e.g., shifting from merit-based values to labor-based ones)
|(3) Positional Awareness||Making visible one’s own bias, racial identity, and ideological/political commitments|
- Implicit Association Test
- Journey Mapping: mapping one’s journey as both a student and an educator
- Locating (a) one’s self and (b) students among “the matrix of domination”
|(4) Representational Awareness||Investigating the role of power in the design process|
- Designers describe their positionality to subjects
- Visual & Discourse analysis for racial tropes
- Providing a rationale for any omissions, elisions, and oversights of stakeholders
Practice Two. Situational Awareness
The first practice asks instructional designers to identify what we assume we know and what we want to know about the students and instructors we support.
The first tactic is a pre-survey in which we modify the instructional design process in response to students’ needs. (See Appendix D). In our pre-survey, we ask questions such as: How many hours do you have to devote to this course beyond its scheduled classes? What constraints might affect your participation in this course? Are there any accessibility needs/proven ways that I can support you? The desired outcome is to create a learning process that works within the material circumstances of our students, rather than assuming the general, institutionalized heuristic applies (e.g., students have 9-hours available per week for a 3-unit course).
A second tactic is to cede control of the learning process back to students by opening the syllabus to their input within the first week of class. While this may sound chaotic, it can be quite controlled, asking, for example, whether an attendance policy seems fair. The purpose is not to be performative, but to involve students in the instructional design process, and to invite their participation in structuring the course itself. Another example is the use of labor-based grading contracts as a systemic way of ceding control to students. In either case, by opening the instructional design process to students, designers materialize their pedagogical schema among the particularity of students’ circumstances, recruiting all students and their expertise and not excluding them.
Practice Three. Positional Awareness
Our second practice centers on positional awareness, that is, thinking about how our experiences as students and community members are activated through the instructional design process. The desired outcome for positional awareness is three-fold: to confront any unconscious bias we may have before building it into the learning process (Fiarman, 2016), to develop “ideological and political clarity” (Bartolomè & Trueba, 2000) as a precondition to equity, and to identify how our racial identities show up in the design process (Wagner, 2005).
Our approach is granular and begins with a single assignment, which is then analyzed individually for bias in its framing, organization, uses of the English language, and metrics of value. Each member reviews the same assignment, and then we discuss what we have observed (i.e., unconscious biases, ideological or political undercurrents, and racializing forces. The design team can help reveal impacts unseen or unperceived by individual designers, although we recognize that this is limited by our own positionalities as well. Creating a space of humility to articulate the ways power manifests in our design has allowed us to be more honest and vulnerable in our growing process.
A second approach to positional awareness is for designers to contextualize their curriculum design in terms of their experiences and identities. Such practices are well-worn from an academic perspective, where we are asked to directly identify the theorists, histories, and disciplinary frameworks in relation to our research and design. Formats may range from paratextual inclusions, such as footnotes or endnotes, to more integrated versions weaved into the essay itself.
Practice Four. Representational Awareness
Over the past couple of years, our team has supported instructors from departments as varied as Ethnic Studies, Engineering, Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, Integrative Biology, Geography, Comparative Literature, and Environmental Science. Our Fellows design courses that center on human subjects. They ask their students to conduct original research and then narrate their findings to their audience. Students are tasked with representing human life quantitatively or qualitatively; that is, they are asked to tell stories. Storytelling is an influential act; it is not neutral.
Our fourth practice, representational awareness, seeks to excavate power through the relational dynamics involved in storytelling. It builds from the preceding three practices of community accountability, situational awareness, and positional awareness. It asks instructional designers to build a process of storytelling for students that is tethered to their researched communities, the underlying material circumstances, and the power dynamics activated through the storytelling process.
Strategies include discourse analysis. Discourse analysis is a meta-level critique where students identify disciplinary tropes and constraints after reviewing an array of journal articles; here the question centers on how does integrative biology, for example, tell the story of human variation? The objective of discourse analysis isn’t to answer the question per se, rather it is to draw critical attention to how a field or discipline approaches that question by inductively examining its literature.
A more discrete strategy asks designers, instructors, and students to describe their relationship to their subjects in one prepositional phrase. Once identified, students, instructors, or designers can discuss the power dynamics entailed by such prepositions. For example, we explore Nancy Chan’s interview (1992) with filmmaker Trinh Minh-ha, where the latter explains how and why she uses “speaking nearby” to describe how she represents her subjects. (Others have included: “speaking for” or “speaking with”.) This analysis is rhetorical, analyzing the structural relationships construed by each prepositional phrase.
We found that most students’ presentations feature at least one image representative of their research or researched community. Since CDF courses center on issues of race and equity, it cannot be assumed that students won’t accidentally circulate a racist image or a historically racist trope. A third strategy centers on analyzing the use of images in students’ projects, which we model first for the whole class, then practice together with a crowdsourced image from the students’ projects, and then ask each project group to practice again by analyzing one image from their research. For example, in one class, we explored the (problematic) use of Black hands through a cell door as the cover image for a research project on the prison industrial complex.
It is common for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) design strategies to approach systemic oppression positively, relying on tropes like inclusivity and diversity to circumscribe the imaginative possibility of anti-racism according to the pre-existing system. However, these tropes neglect the structures of exclusion underlying education that make such additive gestures (e.g., freedom, inclusivity, voice, and diversity) necessary in the first place. Adding more participants to an inequitable system doesn’t change its unjust structure but obscures it. A fourth tactic is a framing exercise that encourages designers, instructors, and students to approach storytelling as an exclusionary act by recognizing that storytelling is a privileged position available to some. Our term, constrained-based storytelling, reframes representation in terms of power and privilege. As much as stories uplift and center certain experiences they do so to the exclusion of others, where many of these “others” have been historically excluded, minoritized, and erased from instruction. Instructors consider the following reflective questions as they design their curriculum: Whose stories are being centered? Whose stories are being told by members outside of their community? Who decides which stories can be told?
Opening: Further Possibilities
Descriptively, anti-racism pedagogy designs a multimodal learning process that moves fluidly among individuals, institutions (i.e., schools), and educational infrastructure; it situates learning as a political activity and simultaneously confronts the purportedly de-politicized framework of education. Under an anti-racism instructional design framework, the physical location (i.e., campus, classroom, seating chart), its figurative entailments (i.e., educational imaginaries, pedagogical frameworks and epistemologies), the cultural, economic, and political constraints brought into instruction by its participants and the way in which these larger systems impose onto instruction and its participants, are engaged, critiqued, and thusly repositioned—at least perceptively. The hope of liberatory projects is not only epistemic but also material, to shift not just paradigms but structures, institutions, and relational dynamics positioned therein.
 In Black Feminist Thought (1990) Patricia Hill Collins introduces the concept of “the matrix of domination” to reframe oppression from an oppositional binary toward an interlocking system of forces, such as a race, gender, and class, that reticulate subjects differently at different times and among different spaces. For examples of antiracist pedagogy, see Leonardo and Manning (2015), where they apply a critical race theoretical lens to group work, demonstrating it to be a space for whiteness and white cultural expressions—in the absence of direct antiracist instruction.
 Asao Inoue (2019), for example, examines the role of merit-based assessments in terms of their longstanding alignment with hierarchy and white supremacist valuations of knowledge. His labor-based grading schema seeks to restructure grading systems away from so-called intelligence-based testing models and toward student labor. Inoue targes one specific aspect of the instructional design process (i.e., assessment) to critique the whole model.
 Through the undercommons, Harney and Moten (2013) attempt to expose fissures in the presumed epistemological foundation upholding instruction to reveal underlying political projects; it advances a new instructional design paradigm. Their project posits instruction as an institutional logic that seeks to organize and to discipline its subjects according to of hierarchical value and not, as it purports to be, to teach content. The undercommons recontextualizes instruction (and instructional design) as part of the infrastructure that reinforces the institutionality of the university against the independence of its subjects (i.e., students, teachers, instructional designers). It suggests that learning is always already mediated by an intervening political project that absorbs into its systematicity any attempts at disruption.
 The American Cultures Center has a program called American Cultures Engaged Scholars program, or ACES for short. Its focus centers on building bridges between institutionalized forms of knowledge, modalities circulated and regulated among disciplinary spaces, with community organizers, members, and groups. In other words, the ACES program has developed community-based accountability through its course projects. While there is some overlap between ACES scholars and the CDF program (i.e., some ACES instructors have received fellowships from CDF), CDF lacks explicit accountability with community members beyond the university system. We hope to build such bridges during future semesters.
 As per Sylvia Wynter (2003) and Alexander G. Weheliye (2014), freedom and voice are predicated on the historically-constructed liberal subject, a term with roots as far back as the Enlightenment. Accordingly, liberalism posits its subject, called the human, as a self-possessed, autonomous individual. For our purposes, it is important to designate the human as a historical figure that has emerged among a particular situation and context (i.e., political, economic, imaginative) that, through its ubiquity, has become a generalized referent for our species and not, as Wynter (2003) describes it, as a one possible “genre” of experience.
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CDF Curriculum: Where and How it Shows Up on Campus
The Creative Discovery Fellows program provides anti-racism pedagogical support to instructors at UC Berkeley teaching the American Cultures course requirement. The American Cultures Center is a multidisciplinary teaching hub composed of faculty members from an array of STEM, Humanities, and Social Science departments, all operating from a common equity-based framework. Interested faculty must apply and then submit their course design for review by an AC committee before their course can receive AC status.
The American Cultures course requirement is the only universal graduation requirement for all undergraduates at UC Berkeley and is the largest curriculum on campus—to date, it has enrolled one million students. The AC requirement was installed in 1991 because of student petitions for a mandatory requirement for all students to learn about non-Western, non-White cultural perspectives. For UC Berkeley, the requirement signified a new, responsive approach to the problem, encountered in numerous disciplines, of how better to represent the diversity of American experience to the diversity of students we now educate. Ling-chi Wang, emeritus professor of Asian American Studies, called the American Cultures (AC) Requirement “one of the most important curriculum-reform projects in the history of this campus. American Cultures challenges each discipline to raise questions that they had never raised before, and in the process, they have uncovered unknown aspects of their own disciplines.”
As CDF, a subsidiary of the AC Center, our project was to revamp the already stellar AC curriculum by designing an anti-racism pedagogical process that supports its commitment to antiracist content. For example, an AC course from the Ethnic Studies department may already feature a reading list centered on non-White thinkers and artists, but the instructor needs support to cultivate a learning process that decenters whiteness and uplifts BIPOC thinkers and artists structurally. Our role, in other words, is to challenge white supremacy and racism by designing a curriculum that enacts structural changes to the teaching and learning process. By leveraging what Harney and Moten (2013) refer to as the “prophetic” role of teaching, AC instructors change the organizational framework of UC Berkeley.
CDF Curriculum: An Overview
Given the move to remote learning, and our withdrawn funding to support individual instructor support, our team decided to build a process-oriented anti-racism curriculum to support instructors of the AC requirement. AC instructors come from a multiplicity of disciplinary backgrounds and so we needed to create a dynamic and modifiable curriculum that supported STEM, Humanities, and Social Science instructors teaching the AC requirement. Focusing on anti-racism content felt like an irrelevant task and a poor use of our time because of the sheer diversity of disciplinary fields represented by our participating instructors. That is, antiracist content in an Integrative Biology course looks different than anti-racism content for a Social Sciences course.
Instruction is common to all AC courses. Rather than attempting to build a curriculum centered on content that might be relevant to a few instructors, we built a 15-week curriculum centered on an anti-racism learning and teaching process that all instructors could use. The curriculum is organized by week and theme and features a series of process-oriented activities. These activities (listed below) require 15-20 minutes of participation and are positioned as complementary to the content- or product-oriented learning outcomes of the AC course. Each activity is designed to confront white supremacy and whiteness structurally, that is, by asking students and instructors to participate in the instructional process differently.
The curriculum hub has an iterative design, which means it retains an open structure. Participants are encouraged to modify, adapt, or innovate its exercises, pacing, and themes to fit the material conditions of their course. Our curriculum is also elective. We invite participants to lean-in and use activities, sections, or sequences that are relevant to their instructional practice in the context of their disciplinary constraints and department requirements. As Gillborn (2006) argues, racism is dynamic and so the open, modifiable process-oriented curriculum is our way of maintaining our mobility, responsiveness, and agility.
CDF Curriculum: Week-by-Week Schedule
The following table identifies the weekly themes and activities. Appendix D provides examples of our process-oriented activities.
● Making Space for Students
● Welcome Survey
● Who We Are
● Rumors and Hearsay
● Community Agreements
● Power Mapping
Narrative as a Rhetorical Act
Discovery & Data Analytics
Cultural Formation of Data
Storyboarding & Representation
Children’s Books: Ideology and Visual Analysis
Writing, Reviewing, Revising
Synchronous & Asynchronous Plans
CDF Curriculum: Sample Activities
This section features a couple of activities featured in the CDF Curriculum. Each activity is an entry point to an aspect of anti-racism, that is, enacting structural changes to education through learning and teaching. As an entry point, each activity presents participants with an opening that is also unfinished; each activity requires participants to “complete” it—that is, to modify or adapt to fit the constraints of disciplinary courses. In this way, our activities emerge from our (the CDF team) teaching practices, they come from a particular time and space. Our intention is to affirm the materiality of instruction in all its particularities and to resist the commodification of educational technologies synonymized by the ditto. That is, anti-racism requires more levels of engagement than a cut-and-paste approach to design. But we also don’t want to isolate or to shame instructors teaching in unsupportive environments, lacking in institutional support, and/or material resources, for whom a cut-and-paste approach is all they have time for. These activities are complete-enough to be directly implemented.
- Week 0, Activity 1: Pre-Course Survey
Instruction begins when we first reach out to our students. When and how we extend that initial welcome often determines how students show up in class, which parts of their identity they share, which cultural experiences and training they leverage. Students carry into the classroom their affective dimensions and cultural background, whether they are acknowledged or not. For deep learning to occur, that is, the kind of learning to work against the narrow visions of whiteness, instructors must invite the effect into the room (Wagner, 2005).
- Week 6, Activity 1: Speaking Nearby
Week 6 centers on the role narrative, representation, or storytelling plays in assigning power and value to subjects. It situates students’ research as an exercise of power that grants subjectivity to some while objectifying others. This process of assigning object or subject status often occurs without question. During this week, students excavate the embedded and assumed power dynamics latent in their research or represented through disciplinary content. Activity 1 derives from the antiracist pedagogy of educator and filmmaker, Trinh Minh-ha (1992).
- Week 9, Activity 1: Ideological Analysis
The following exercise occurs well into the semester. As Leonardo and Manning (2015) observe, unsupervised group work often reverts to its default cultural conditions, which is whiteness. While other, earlier activities develop antiracist group work strategies, it is assumed that those structures are in play when, under Protocol A, it asks for “project groups”.
Week 0, Activity 1
Premise. As teachers, we have often designed our courses in a vacuum, responding to department protocol or standards. We often ask our students to adjust to the department, school, or your preferences. Teachers usually don’t know who we’re teaching - what their prior training is, the expertise they carry, the material conditions that compose their learning environment, the economic constraints that may limit the time allotted for your course, etc. - until after the semester begins. In other words, we make quite a few assumptions about our students without asking for their input.
Purpose. The purpose of the presurvey is two-fold: on one hand, it is to gain situational awareness about our particular students and, on the other, it is to adjust the course design, projects, schedule, and outcomes to fit their needs, availability, and access while still upholding whatever external standards, benchmarks, or protocol requisite of the course.
Preparation. Think about what you wished you knew at the beginning of a semester, but don’t until after you get to know them. Alternatively, think categorically about what you don’t know about your students. Come up with a series of questions that will address your knowledge gaps and can be answered by students in a short period of time (e.g., 10-15 minutes). Using Google Forms or another easily accessible platform, compose the survey. When you send it out, be as transparent as possible: clearly state its purpose, its deadline, what you will do with the information, with whom it will be shared, and how they will know you’ve reviewed it.
Protocol. After you’ve welcomed students into the class and invited them to take up space, then send the follow up survey. The more lead time you give yourself, the more responsive you can be to your students (i.e., the less stressful it will be to make adjustments before the semester begins). Once you’ve distributed the survey with a clear manageable deadline, then review the results and identify clear ways to adjust. Taking it one step further, you can then share how you’ve adjusted the course to fit student needs during the first week of class (or whenever you share your syllabus).
Pre-survey Questions [sample distributed via Google Forms]
The following presurvey helps me understand more about who you are. One of the challenges as a teacher is that when I design a class, I do so without a concrete awareness of my students. The purpose of this survey is to help me understand more about you, your interests, and your situation. With the results, I will adjust course requirements, schedule, and projects, and will specify where changes have been made when we rewrite the syllabus together on the 4th day of class.
- In your own words, what is this course about?
- What life experiences can you connect to its central themes?
- What do you hope to learn?
- What do you hope to contribute?
- On a scale of 1-4, with 4 being super excited and 1 being utter agony, what is your level of excitement for the course?
- Including this course, how many courses have you enrolled in this semester?
- What is the primary way you will access this course?
- Shared laptop, desktop, or tablet
- Describe your home learning environment. (e.g., Where do you zoom? With whom? What does your ‘classroom’ look like?)
- What language(s) do you speak at home?
- From what time zone will you be joining us?
- What challenges might you face while enrolled in this course? [Note: challenges may be internal to the course, such as content, or external to the course. Constraints may include: familial--childcare, adultcare, sharing laptops; health--global pandemic; social--police violence, educational racism, protests; political--government restrictions; economic--family business, employment. Answer vaguely, if necessary.]
- Given all your time constraints, how much time do you realistically have for coursework outside of our synchronous class time?
- 5 hrs/week or less
- 6-10 hrs/week
- 11-15 hrs/week
- 16-20 hrs/week
Week 6, Activity 1
Premise. The relationship of storytellers to their subjects, objects, and systems is an under examined part of the representation process.
Purpose. The purpose of this exercise is to discuss the positionality of storytellers two ways, in relationship to their subjects and socio-politically.
Preparation. Students review an early 90s interview with documentarian Trinh Minh-ha, as she discusses her positionality as a filmmaker.
Protocol. In writing groups, define “speaking nearby” and differentiate from at least three other prepositions (e.g., speaking for; speaking with). Applying this heuristic, review one image and one prose document to describe the relationship of the storyteller/photographer to their subjects. As a class, one representative from each group shares one insight from their writing groups before opening it up to a discussion that addresses the following questions: how is the positionality of storytellers related to anti-racism? Based on my research, how have writers historically positioned themselves to their subject? Based on our field, how do writers in ________ discipline position themselves to their subjects? What affordances and limitations have these configurations engendered? How do I position my creative discovery project “nearby” its subjects?
Children’s Books: Ideology and Visual Analysis
Week 9, Activity 1
Premise. Starting with familiar, easily accessible texts, like children’s picture books, helps them gain experience practicing a new form of analysis (visual rhetorics) in a playful, low-stakes way that directly informs their own storytelling practices.
Purpose. This exercise provides students with a playful, fun approach to visual rhetorics by analyzing picture books.
Preparation. Select a series of children’s picture books (e.g., Cece Loves Science; Not Quite Snow White; Babar and His Children; Anti-Racist Baby; Five Chinese Brothers; Steam Train, Dream Train). Upload to Canvas, Drive, or whichever educational platform employed by your course. Invite students to select one story to read and analyze among their project groups or assign them one to read. (Note: if you assign different stories to different groups, a secondary presentation in which groups can present their “findings” to another group. This helps develop confidence, experience presenting stories, and, horizontally, circulates different analytical approaches across the class.)
- A) In project groups, invite students to read a children’s story to uncover its ideological background based on comparative analysis of its images, characters and characterization, plot, tone, and mood.
- B) A second approach invites students to reverse-engineer the story based upon its images. Here, students block out the text and excavate the plot, characters and characterization, and ideology by attending only to the images.
- C) Applying to each group’s project-narrative, invite members to think through the ideological and political commitments surfaced through their selected images, characterization, and plot points.
CDF Curriculum: Fall Student Survey Results, 2019
The following graphs have been taken from an internal research report administered by Laura Armstrong during the Spring and Fall semesters of 2019. The first figure reveals that students increased their comfort-level using Adobe tools during our CDF courses.