A University of Iowa professor is scrambling to re-write a lesson on slavery she’s been teaching for decades because it’s making some students uncomfortable.
The assignment in Leslie Schwalm’s history course on slavery and emancipation tasks students with imagining themselves as a slave or slave owner, and at least one student complained about it on Twitter.
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“When I brought this up with her, she said to be a freed slave to lessen the trauma,” the student posted to Twitter. “And yes this woman is white.”
KWWL identified the teacher involved, but did not identify the student.
The student continued to speak out about the assignment and teacher despite the university’s attempts to reach out about her grievances, The Gazette reports.
“Apparently this woman has continued to give out this assignment for years. She got this idea from another professor at iowa who did the same assignment for the holocaust,” the student tweeted.
“We’d love to connect over direct message and share resources available,” UI wrote on Twitter. “We are sharing this with our Campus Inclusion Team right now.”
In no time, Schwalm issued a statement explaining that she’s “taken her feedback seriously” and is now “reconfiguring the writing assignment.”
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“The professor is redesigning the assignment, and all students in the class will be engaged in an open dialogue when the assignment is reintroduced and their feedback will be incorporated moving forward,” UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett told The Gazette. “This is an opportunity to continue the important conversation about how student voices are critical in helping make sure things move forward in a racially just and equitable way both inside and outside the classroom.”
It wasn’t nearly good enough. The student continued to complain about the situation via Twitter on Thursday, alleging “the solution was writing in third person!”
I hope, through this course, to empower students with new knowledge, to help prepare future teachers to bring an accurate and deep knowledge to their own classrooms, and to challenge our nation’s failure to come to terms with what I believe to be one of the most ignored and misrepresented feature of our nation’s history. I believe that as a nation we will not be able to redress racial inequality and racism until we come to terms with this history.
Even with the deliberate care I take in teaching this course, I am always learning from my students, and one of those learning opportunities occurred this week. I have taken her feedback seriously. I am reconfiguring the writing assignment. And, I believe that students should be challenging universities and teachers in the instance of racist or traumatizing pedagogies. I think the scrutiny is appropriate, especially in a white-majority university like ours. I look forward to learning with my students this semester, doing this hard work.
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