Anti-racism in academia

This month, our guest editors, Dr. Hanae Tsukada, Dr. Kari Grain, and Dr. Hartej Gill, discuss the role of Anti-racism in academia. Hanae works in a cross-unit role with the Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO) as well as the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT). Kari is a sessional instructor in UBC’s Faculties of Education and Arts, and an educational consultant in the CTLT. Hartej is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education, specializing in anti-colonialism, decolonization, post-colonial studies, leadership, and pedagogy. She was also a 2013–14 recipient of the prestigious Killam Faculty Teaching Award.

Anti-racism work in academia: An overview

Many activists, educators, and scholars, especially from Indigenous, Black and People of Colour (IBPOC) communities, have been tirelessly fighting against colonial oppressions and racial injustice for generations. In 2020, with a “double pandemic” — the COVID-19 crisis paired with the systemic racism highlighted by the murders of George Floyd and numerous others — the broader public is finally waking up to the significance and deep-rootedness of the issues that these predecessors have been raising.

Educators in higher education are also being challenged more than ever before to reflect, unlearn, look inward, and imagine new ways to actively generate change. If education is to truly be, as Paulo Freire (1973) and bell hooks (1994) envisioned it, a practice of freedom and liberation, then it is every educator’s responsibility to infuse their own teaching practice with anti-racist values that bolster the success of all learners. To actively resist racist systems, and to commit to greater equity through teaching practices, educators first need to understand concepts such as racism, solidarity, and decolonization, and how they affect teaching and learning. This is no easy endeavour for educators, especially on top of the additional labour required by the shift to online learning. It is not easy, but it is necessary.

Considerations for educators

We have distilled a non-exhaustive list of key considerations for educators wishing to cultivate anti-racism and solidarity in their teaching practice. The resources we have curated further on in this issue contain more details and context for these ideas:

  • Begin each course or event with a land acknowledgement (aim to integrate humility, personalization, and actions toward reconciliation and/or decolonization). For more resources and considerations, see UBC Vancouver’s Indigenous Portal. The CTLT Indigenous Initiatives also offer a land acknowledgement resource.
  • Commit long term. This is not merely a task for 2020, but rather a lifelong commitment.
  • Examine your syllabus for diverse authorship. Many syllabi are dominated by White, Western male scholars. Consider spending time researching and integrating IBPOC scholarship.
  • Offer safe avenues for feedback and communication if students feel that they are being discriminated against.
  • Learn about the Canadian context. Although racism in the United States certainly has relevance to Canada, make sure to understand the distinctive history and contemporary facts of Canadian racism.
  • Interrupt racist or discriminatory sentiments in your classes. You may witness or commit a racial microaggression in the classroom, or you could become a victim if you are IBPOC. Equip yourself through resources, workshops, and tools so you have a plan for how to respond (see below!)
  • Don’t ask racialized students and colleagues to be educators on topics related to race. Several studies outline the burden of additional (and emotional) labour that is expected of racialized faculty members and students. If you are white, do the work to educate yourself. If you are racialized, say no, and/or ask your white colleagues to take on some of the additional labour if you feel safe to do so.
  • Accept that you will make mistakes. Discomfort, uncertainty, and risk are central to the labour of an anti-racist teaching practice. Be accountable to your mistakes and harms caused, and learn to do better in the future.
  • Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Anti-racist teaching can be emotionally taxing, especially if you are IBPOC. The EIO offers self-care tips and resources for IBPOC communities at UBC. If you are white, think about how you can take off the burden — emotional labour and otherwise — from your IBPOC colleagues and students.

Introductory resources to anti-racist teaching

The resources below are to provide an introductory understanding of some of the key ideas and practical tips for nurturing an anti-racist teaching practice. These concepts will be explored further in the Anti-Racist Teaching Series of workshops, which the CTLT and EIO are partnering to launch in October.

  • As We Confront Racism, Teachers Can Play a Key Role: Educators at all levels play a vital role in confronting racism. This article in The Tyee is written by a secondary school teacher who explains four foundational tips regarding what to do (and what not to do) as a teacher who aims to cultivate anti-racism. Among those tips: Ask questions, listen, engage in difficult dialogues, critically reflect, and take action to dismantle systemic racism.
  • Microaggressions in the Classroom (PDF): Microaggressions can happen anywhere, including online or face-to-face classrooms. However minor and unintentional each act may be, it can have a harmful impact on the victim. This practical handout explains how microaggressions can manifest in the classroom and how you can respond to it as a witness, victim, or a perpetrator. For information on microaggressions more broadly, see How to Respond to Microaggressions from the NY Times, or this useful tool for recognizing microaggressions (PDF).
  • Black Lives Matter in Canadian Adult Education1: This student-generated, interactive slide deck offers a foundational understanding of Black Lives Matter (BLM) as a movement and situates it in a Canadian context. Slides are accompanied by audio clips and include both embedded videos developed by BLM activists, and analyses of academic literature at the intersection of BLM and adult education.
  • Solidarity & Allyship Guidelines from UNIST’OT’EN: ‘Allyship’ and ‘solidarity’ are becoming popular vocabulary with growing social activism in the world, and you may be interested to cultivate these ideas in the classroom. However, before jumping in uncritically, read these resources to learn what they are (and aren’t) meant to be in the context of settler colonialism.
  • Effective Teaching is Anti-Racist Teaching: 5 Starting Points for Anti-Racist Teaching: Some educators assume that anti-racist teaching is relevant only in certain disciplines or that teaching excellence is void of race. In this newsletter post, Sociologist, Mary Wright, at Brown University asserts that teaching has to be anti-racist to be effective. She provides five starting points and examples of anti-racist teaching in relation to: Course goals, class content, problem solving, assessment, and knowing (and re-knowing) yourself.

1This resource was submitted as a final project in Kari’s summer 2020 course, ADHE 328: Institutions of Adult Education, and was adapted by student authors in order to share publicly for Edubytes.


Enjoyed reading about anti-racism in academia? Learn about other topics we covered in the September 2020 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter. To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

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