Students and faculty discuss racial spotlighting in the classroom

(FSU students and faculty participated in a discussion about racial issues on campus in the Center for Inclusive Excellence. Photo by Cass Doherty.)

Students and faculty gathered in the Center for Inclusive Excellence on Wednesday, March 30 to discuss racial spotlighting and ignoring during a Diversity Dialogue.

Led by Dr. Deb McMakin and Professor Virginia Noon, the group discussed how harmful racial spotlighting and racial ignoring can be in a classroom setting. McMakin introduced the group first to the concept of racial spotlighting, which she first learned about in the book, “Black Achievers’ Experiences With Racial Spotlighting and Ignoring in a Predominately White High School,” written by Dorinda Carter.

Racial spotlighting occurs when students experience their classmates or faculty positioning them as “hyper visible,” while racial ignoring occurs when students perceive their racial membership as salient to the class but unacknowledged by students and/or professors.

According to Noon, the goal of the discussion was to “promote mutual understanding among students, faculty and staff.”

After a brief introduction from McMakin, she opened the discussion up to the group with a series of questions. Cass Teneus, a junior and president of Black Student Union, brought up that professors sometimes ask students questions based on their skin color, assuming that they would be able to relate.

“A while back, I had a professor ask me [about Africa] and what I thought of it, and what I thought of my family, and I’m not African. My family is not from Africa,” Teneus explained.

Teneus also stated it’s important to ask before assuming that someone can relate to a topic.

“I can’t answer for someone who looks like me about a situation,” she added.

The group went on to discuss the University’s reaction to last year’s protest and this year’s bias incident concerning the Confederate flag. Teneus and other students’ main concern was that the University didn’t respond fast enough to the issues and that it wasn’t the administration, but student organizations that took action.

Regarding the bias incident, Teneus said the Confederate flag may have been part of Southern culture, but that “Southern culture can be racist culture.” It made her uncomfortable to see the symbol, and when asked, she felt pressured and unwanted.

One student said, “Professors that are more open and share their own personal experiences allow students to feel more comfortable.”

McMakin said, “The classroom extends to the campus, to the city of Boston, and then of course the United States. … It can’t be compartmentalized to only what is happening on campus.”

Sophomore Jackson Stevens said, “It’s events like this, and The Gatepost, where you can actually talk to students, where that power relationship isn’t the same, that professors and students can really understand what marginalized students go through.”

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