Tag Archives: race

Activities for Helping Students Think Through Positionality from Shetal Vohra-Gupta’s Difficult Dialogues Workshop

Written by Difficult Dialogues Program Coordinator Sarah Ropp.

On Friday, March 26, the Difficult Dialogues program was very pleased to host Shetal Vohra-Gupta (Assistant Professor of Social Work) for our third faculty-led dialogic pedagogy workshop of the Spring 2021 semester. Entitled “Helping Students Think Through Positionality,” Vohra-Gupta’s workshop was one of our bimonthly Difficult Dialogues faculty learning community events. Vohra-Gupta presented some of the activities she uses throughout the semester to engage students participating in her UGS/DD 303 course “The Invisible 80%: Students, Policy, and Action,” which she has been teaching regularly since Fall 2017, in meaningful reflection around their intersecting social identities. Highly adaptable across disciplines and content, three of Vohra-Gupta’s techniques are summarized below. 

 

    1. Identity Mapping. At the beginning of the semester, Vohra-Gupta explained, she invites students to name a few of their major social identities and reflect on the impact each identity has had on their lived experience, both pragmatically and affectively. Students engage in this reflection through a three-tiered graphic organizer, modeled after an approach presented in Danielle Jacobson and Nida Mustafa’s 2019 article “Social Identity Map: A Reflexivity Tool for Practicing Explicit Positionality in Critical Qualitative Research.” Here’s how it works: 
  • Tier 1: Students draw 8 boxes and write one of the social identities they possess in each box (for example: Class, Age, Citizenship, Ability, Race, Sexual Orientation, Cis/Trans, and Gender). 
  • Tier 2: Students draw two smaller boxes connected to each Tier 1 identity box. For each of these Tier 1 social identities, students name two ways in which this identity affects their day-to-day life, writing a simple word or phrase into the smaller boxes (for example, a student might name “health care” as an impact they associate with Canadian citizenship). These impacts may be experienced as positive, negative, a mix, or neither.
  • Tier 3: From each of the smaller Tier 2 boxes, students draw additional lines to connect emotions that they experience as a result of the pragmatic impacts (Tier 2) of their various identities (Tier 1). For example, “shame” and “desire to be an advocate” might be two emotions experienced in connection with a White racial identity. 


  • Positionality Statements. Vohra-Gupta stressed the importance of participating in critical self-reflection around identity as an instructor–not just having students do so. She explained that she does this for multiple reasons: to model reflection for students, to acknowledge and ameliorate to some degree the power imbalance between instructor and student, and to engage with her own positionality as a scholar and teacher on a regular, ongoing basis. Vohra-Gupta shared a short positionality statement of about three sentences that she uses to introduce students both to herself as an instructor and to the content and format of a positionality statement. Her statement contains a list of three or so of her primary social identities, as well as a definition of her scholarly and pedagogical identities (for example, as a feminist and critical race scholar). She invites students, after they have participated in the social identity mapping activity, to craft their own positionality statements. 


  • Written Reflection. Following the social identity mapping and positionality statement activities, Vohra-Gupta has her students apply their reflections more systematically, through a written essay assignment in which students must describe how their various and intersecting social identities impact their relationship to and experience with a given policy. For example, Vohra-Gupta shared, female students had written about their experiences of feeling exposed and embarrassed due to the “clear-bag” policy at UT stadium sporting events. Vohra-Gupta’s course is about university policy, but this exercise can be adapted to any course topic–our identities affect our lived experiences in every area, after all.  

 

Additional Resource: 

Workshop participant Amy Nathan Wright (Assistant Professor of Instruction, Human Dimensions of Organizations) shared this original identity inventory exercise as a potential follow-up to the identity mapping activity.

A. Van Jordan’s “Afterward but not Afterword”

Afterward but not Afterword
by A. Van Jordan

State of Florida v. Patrick Gene Scarborough, David Erwin Beagles, Ollie Odell Stoutamire, William Ted Collinsworth, 1959, case #3445.

Later I lower my head to my father’s chest,

the hollow where I hear his heart stop, if stop

meant speed to a stop, if hearts could gasp like a

mouth when events stun the heart to a stop

for a moment. His eyes fill with anger

then, collecting himself, he rises up to slump

his shoulders back down. The fists. The eyes.

Nothing can raise up, nothing feels essential,

a black body raising up in the south and all…

To a life starting here, ethereal, yet flesh, and all?

And even if you could, what all good would it do?

The damage and all. Black birds flock,

dulcet yet mourning, an uproar of need,

a cry of black but blue is not the sky

in which they gender. My God, if life is not pain,

no birth brought me into this world,

or could life begin here where it ends—

no shelter, no comfort, no ride home—
and must I go on, saying more? Pointing

them out in a court of men? Didn’t

the trees already finger the culprits? Creatures

make a way where there is no way. That way

after I lean into what’s left of me—and must I

(yes, you must) explain, over and over,

how my blood came to rest here—my body,

now labeled evidence, sows what I have yet to say.

About This Poem: “Betty Jean Owens was an African American woman who was raped by four white men—Patrick Gene Scarborough, David Erwin Beagles, Ollie Odell Stoutamire, and William Ted Collinsworth—in Tallahassee, Florida, on May, 1959. The trial was a landmark case, covered at the time by the BBC and international news outlets. This was the first case on record in which a jury of twelve white men found white-male assailants guilty of raping a black woman. Writing this poem, as a man, I can only approximate the emotion in the scene, even for the father as he tries to comfort her.”
A. Van Jordan

Copyright © 2020 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. Suggested to the Humanities Institute by Pauline Strong.

Provocative Works on Racial Injustice and Health Inequity from Recent HI Visitors

By Dr. Sarah Ropp, HI Difficult Dialogues Program Coordinator and Andrew W. Mellon Engaged Scholar Initiative Fellow

The Humanities Institute is privileged to welcome outstanding visiting scholars, performers, and activists to UT each year as part of various programs, including the Cline Centennial Professorship in the Humanities, the Distinguished Visiting Lecture Series, and the Difficult Dialogues Public Forums, among others. We have gathered together a few resources by recent visitors that speak to racial injustice and health inequities in a number of different formats, from books and articles to video and music.

Rita Charon, MD, PhD

In September 2016, the Humanities Institute welcomed Rita Charon as its ninth C.L. and Henriette Cline Centennial Visiting Professor. Charon is Professor of Medicine and founder and Executive Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. Her Distinguished Public Lecture for the Humanities Institute, entitled “The Shock of Attention: Bodies, Stories, and Healing,” can be viewed at this link

Upcoming Event: On Thursday, July 16, 2020, at 1pm CDT, Charon will be participating in an online conversation hosted by the Modern Language Association entitled “Medicine, Narrative, Power, and Pandemic,” along with physician and fiction writer Aakriti Pandita. They will respond to the questions, “How can narrative and the humanities help us understand this pandemic? And how can they make medicine smarter, more equitable, and more effective?” Register for the event HERE.

Alondra Nelson, PhD

In 2018, Alondra Nelson delivered a Humanities Institute Symposium keynote lecture on her book The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (Beacon Press, 2016) as part of the Distinguished Visiting Lecture Series. President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, she has produced a number of recent works that speak to intersections between race, social inequality, health care, and activism:

Article: In “Society after Pandemic,” Nelson asks, “How do the social conditions exposed, exacerbated, and created by the novel coronavirus demand that we substantively rethink our ideas of society and, therefore, some of the prevailing assumptions of social science?” This is the inaugural essay in the SSRC’s “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series.

Teaching resource: The #coronavirussyllabus is an open-access, living list of texts for teaching about Covid-19 in social, historical, and political context, from scholarly books and articles, to music, visual art, and film, to podcasts and videos. Nelson initiated this crowdsourcing effort with the Twitter hashtag #coronavirussyllabus, inviting contributions from around the globe and across a wide variety of disciplines.  

Video: Recently, Nelson participated in a virtual roundtable hosted by the Modern Language Association entitled “Is Higher Education Learning from the Pandemic?” along with Cathy N. Davidson and Christopher Newfield. 

Book: Nelson’s contributions to scholarship on health equity and racial justice date to at least 2011, when she published her first book, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press), which argues, “The Black Panther Party’s understanding of health as a basic human right and its engagement with the social implications of genetics anticipated current debates about the politics of health and race.”  

(Photo credit: Daniel Cavazos)

Eric Klinenberg, PhD

In fall 2018, Eric Klinenberg was the featured speaker for a Difficult Dialogues Public Forum on “Climate Change, Social Infrastructure, and Inequality,” hosted by the Humanities Institute and Planet Texas 2050. Klinenberg is Helen Gould Shepard Professor of Social Science and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. Klinenberg’s work explores the failures of social infrastructure in moments of crisis, especially for historically neglected populations.

Video: “The Chicago Heat Wave, 20 Years Later” is a talk given by Klinenberg at the 2015 Chicago Humanities Festival that picks up the ideas presented in his 2002 book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (University of Chicago Press). In this book, the publisher writes, “Klinenberg uncovers how a number of surprising and unsettling forms of social breakdown—including the literal and social isolation of seniors, the institutional abandonment of poor neighborhoods, and the retrenchment of public assistance programs—contributed to the high fatality rates” of the record-breaking 1995 Chicago heat wave. 

Book: In Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Penguin Random House, 2018), Klinenberg argues that “the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces: the libraries, childcare centers, churches, and parks where crucial connections are formed.”

Article: “Worry Less about Crumbling Roads, More about Crumbling Libraries,” a September 2018 Atlantic article, presents Klinenberg’s basic thesis for Palaces of the People

(Photo credit: Daniel Cavazos)

Martha Redbone 

The Humanities Institute, in partnership with Native American and Indigenous Studies and Texas Performing Arts, was honored to host Martha Redbone for a fall 2019 Difficult Dialogues Public Forum entitled “Indigeneity, the Land, and Storytelling” along with Angelo Baca and Anne Lewis. Redbone is a Native and African American multi-award-winning musician and storyteller celebrated for her roots music embodying the folk, indigenous, and mountain blues sounds of her childhood in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. 

Theater: This clip presents “Caught My Eye,” a song from Bone Hill, Redbone’s interdisciplinary theater work, which premiered in 2015 at Joe’s Pub in New York City (Redbone also presented Bone Hill: The Concert at Bass Concert Hall in February 2020.) Redbone explains, “Bone Hill is the true account of my ancestors, of post-slavery, and people of color working in the coal mines of Appalachia amid the laws of Jim Crow and our survival as the original people of that land as the world changes around us through the generations.” 

Album: Redbone’s most recent album is Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake. Of the album, Anastasia Tsioulcas of NPR writes, “Martha Redbone’s music chronicles the crossroads of the American experience. Born in Kentucky and of Cherokee, Choctaw and African American descent, Redbone combines folk, Appalachian, soul and Native tradition in a group of settings of poetry by William Blake – a startling idea, perhaps, but one that brims with potency and freshness.” 

“On Another’s Sorrow” is a song from the album that resonates particularly deeply at the current moment, asking: “Can I see another’s war and not be in sorrow too?”

“How Sweet I Roamed” is another song from the album that, Redbone writes, could have been the prelude to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” 

Other Songs: Redbone performs her version of “Drums,” originally written by Peter La Farge, at the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The song is a testament to the violence of forced removal and state “education” and is a part of the permanent collection at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. “You may teach us of this country’s history,” the song goes, “but we taught it to you first.” 

Redbone performs the slave spiritual “No More Auction Block” in 2017 in the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Howard Gilman Opera House in association with Voices of a People’s History of the United States.  

Three HI Affiliates Featured in Latest Issue of “Life and Letters”

In the latest issue of Life and Letters, several faculty from the College of Liberal Arts offer their perspectives on “Rebooting Our Lives After COVID-19.” Among the faculty included are two of our Difficult Dialogues professors: Robert Crosnoe, Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and Professor of Sociology, whose Difficult Dialogues course is called “Race and Policy in the U.S.,” and Ken-Hou Lin, Associate Professor of Sociology, who teaches “Two to Tango: The Sociology of Interpersonal Relationships” for the program. Another faculty member who contributed to the article, Heather Houser, Associate Professor of English, is collaborating with the Humanities Institute on our new theme, The Humanities in the Environment/The Environment in the Humanities.