UNC Charlotte junior Lauren Martin and senior Scott Christensen are pushing for a new general education course on race and racism in order to “increase awareness of systemic racism and engage students in meaningful conversations,” they say. They started a petition to gain support for the cause that currently has 450 signatures.
The course would be similar to an LBST 2301 Critical Thinking and Communications course in that it would be small and discussion-based and mandatory for all incoming freshmen and transfer students. It would not be an additional course, they say, but would replace a pre-existing general education course. “We don’t want to add to the course load of current students,” explained Christensen.
The idea has garnered support from several faculty members. Director of Women's and Gender Studies Dr. Janaka Lewis told the Niner Times, “I support a class in anti-racism curriculum because it would shed light on the many ways racism, discrimination and racial violence are part of the fabric of society and range across educational disciplines as well. We do not currently, to my knowledge, have a curricular initiative that addresses anti-Black and racial violence throughout or as a basis for a field of study.”
Dr. Lewis also stated that, “The benefit of such a course is to escape the idea that racism is only relevant in cultural-specific studies and instead emphasize that it is of local, national and global significance.”
Martin and Christensen took inspiration from Sarah Klein, who started a similar petition at the University of Florida.
“This is something that should be happening at UNC Charlotte, which is one of the most diverse student bodies in the UNC system,” said Christensen. “This is important and it is something tangible that we can do to create change.”
Martin added, “Education on racism in the United States is currently a topic the majority of UNC Charlotte students are not taught. Therefore, we believe there is a need for this type of course at the university level.”
The two were also motivated by an Instagram page created during the recent resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement. @dearuncc is an unaffiliated Instagram account that shares BIPOC students’ experiences with racism and prejudice at UNC Charlotte. Martin and Christensen say that the racism course would help educate students in order to limit encounters like these.
The process to change general education requirements is complex. Martin and Christensen will have to gain support from the Faculty Council, the deans of each college, Provost Lorden and Chancellor Gaber. The last change to general education curriculum was the addition of LBST 2301, and it took 3 years to complete.
In her 2020 convocation speech, Provost Lorden said, “We need to revisit the goals and values embodied in the general education program and ask what a contemporary program should be.”
UNC Charlotte also recently implemented an online bias reporting form. The form allows you to provide information to anonymously report any incident of bias on campus. It is then reviewed and directed to the appropriate office on campus to resolve or amend the issue. This process is meant to track incidents as well as provide the campus with an idea of the prevalence of biased incidents on campus.
Chancellor Gaber also recently announced that Dr. Cheryl Waites Spellman will be the new Interim Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at UNC Charlotte. She will organize with faculty, staff and students to further create a more diverse environment on campus.
Martin and Christensen believe that now is the best time to introduce this petition and course because UNC Charlotte has a new chancellor who they hope is open to new concepts and changes.