My Transformative Experience While Teaching

[Written by Therese Williams, PhD]

As a mature white woman newly teaching at the university level, I have been afforded opportunities that were not frequently offered while I spent many years working in industry and government.  I have participated in numerous book groups sponsored by the 21st Century Pedagogy Institute (21CPI) at UCO and learned from each experience.

In the fall of 2019, I participated with a group reading and discussing “ain’t i a woman” by bell hooks. Although I was aware of some of the horrors women in slavery experienced in this country, and I knew that racial discrimination has continued long after the Emancipation Proclamation,  the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were enacted; I was not aware that white women actively discriminated against women of color during the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  During this group, the book “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo was recommended to me.  It went on my list, but as it happens, it became a group in the spring of 2020.

This book significantly helped me to understand things that I ‘thought’ I knew and things that I probably didn’t know and I finally understand the ‘white privilege’ mentality that is so pervasive in our society, in all of our lives, and especially in corporate and government power structures.  As part of this book group, for 21CPI, I wrote a reflection that committed to continuing my education on these topics and to support, in ways that are possible for me, the goals of groups that are struggling to change our society to become more inclusive and provide a level playing field for ALL people.

And then George Floyd was murdered.  I have attended a webinar supported by white women in the Women’s March movement who want to help others become educated on the issues, a webinar sponsored by Black Lives Matter OKC that featured Black Women who spoke about their struggles and changes they believe will be effective, a webinar sponsored by UCO – “Navigating Racial Trauma Panel” which spoke to helping yourself and others to handle racial trauma, and bits and pieces of other opportunities including reading a newly recommended book “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi.  I’ve learned that it’s not enough to just not be a racist but that one must actively be an anti-racist.  One of the many quotes attributed to Martin Luther King is “There comes a time when silence is betrayal,” and I am taking this quote to heart.

I teach primarily technology classes in the College of Business.  As such, there is not much opportunity to slide social issues into the classroom.  As a result of some of the transformation I have been going through, I am working on a personal inclusion statement to be included in my classes.  At first, I thought I would include it in the syllabus, but as all instructors know, only a few students really read the syllabus!  Therefore, I am going to include it as a separate document.  I will discuss my journey, the organizations I am supporting, and include a recommended reading list culled from books recommended to me and other lists I have seen.

When I was an undergraduate student, although I read a great deal, I was not exposed to ideas on social issues other than in my family.  And in my family, we did not (and still don’t) discuss issues beyond the basics of kindness, fairness, and truth.  My hope is that, perhaps, someone in a class will start to think about these issues beyond what they have already learned, and it will become transformational for them.

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