In a new spring-term course, Dartmouth students will investigate questions of race, inequality, and violence that arose last summer following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
The class, called "10 Weeks, 10+ Professors: #BlackLivesMatter," will be taught by close to 20 faculty from about a dozen departments and could be a model for future cross-disciplinary courses.
"The benefit of this course is that we will be able to offer a comprehensive look at one topic across a wide range of disciplines," says Denise Anthony, a sociology professor and the vice provost for academic initiatives, who will be among the course faculty. "This course could be a template for future multidisciplinary classes on subjects such as terrorism, the brain, the Arctic, and the financial crisis."
"I can think of few, if any, other spaces in America today with both the time and the mandate for this kind of sustained, considered reflection,” says Assistant Professor Abigail Neely, shown here leading a discussion during a geography course. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
The course, developed by assistant professors Aimee Bahng in English and Abigail Neely in geography, will incorporate faculty teaching and research from a number of departments, including English, history, geography, math, and religion.
"Dartmouth in general and the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) in particular have for some time been leaders in developing team-teaching opportunities and implementing the liberal arts ideal within individual courses and classrooms," says Colleen Glenney Boggs, director of the Leslie Center for the Humanities and a professor of English and women's and gender studies, who will be part of the course's teaching collective. "The course is building on these strengths, and is pioneering a particularly ambitious model for approaching a subject from multiple academic disciplines. To my knowledge, that is also something that sets this course apart from similar ones offered at our peer institutions."
Neely said the course came about because a number of faculty and students had been troubled about the events that unfolded in Ferguson, on Staten Island in New York, and across the country.
"Many of us have felt that we both wanted and needed a way to think together systematically about these events and about broader questions of race, violence, and the state in America," she says.
Over the Rev. Martin Luther King Day Jr. weekend, the Rev. Starsky Wilson, the co-chair of the state of Missouri's Ferguson Commission, who was at Dartmouth to speak in the College's King celebration, and Provost Carolyn Dever led a seminar at DCAL that examined the lessons of Ferguson.
"By the end of the seminar, Aimee Bahng and I had decided that we should teach a course dedicated to understanding Ferguson in its broader historical and geographical context," Neely says.
The course will begin with an examination of the Ferguson events, followed by a look at race and racism in the United States, and then a study of trauma and violence on an individual, community, and global scale. The goals of the class include allowing students to work across disciplines and having them develop critical thinking skills with which to understand current events.
The class, a special topics course, is being offered through the geography and African and African American Studies departments. Many departments offer at least one special topics course a year.
"If my schedule allows, I would love to take the class in the spring and hear from a diverse group of faculty on this important topic," says Nia Foney ’15, a sociology major who works as an office assistant in the sociology department. "I've heard of an interest in the class from many of my friends who have taken courses with professors on the course-planning committee."
The course has echoes of an earlier Dartmouth class examining important current issues, said one of the professors who will be teaching the new class.
"Ferguson and its fallout—the #blacklivesmatter movement—have brought the issues of racialization, structural inequality, and violence in the U.S. to the fore. These are the great issues of our day," says geography Professor Richard Wright, the Orvil Dryfoos Professor of Public Affairs.
He likened the course to the Great Issues class, which was a signature experience for Dartmouth seniors and ran for two decades, through 1967. "This new course will involve as many 20 professors, and students will be exposed to a wide range of viewpoints, epistemologies, and voices. My hope is that it will be a liberal arts course par excellence," he says.
Wright says students will grapple with the math undergirding the subprime mortgage crisis one week, the sociology of mass incarceration the next, and then switch gears to consider violence and the black experience through readings by Roland Barthes, Frantz Fanon, and C.L.R. James.
"Dartmouth has a great faculty, and this course will showcase the high-caliber intellectual talent we have here," says Wright.
Giving students the opportunity to learn about one topic from a number of perspectives "goes to the heart of the truly excellent liberal arts education that is at the center of the Dartmouth experience," says Neely.
"What we do well at universities and colleges—and especially at liberal arts colleges like Dartmouth—is to think and learn together to understand contemporary society and to imagine—and begin to enact—a better future," Neely says. "I can think of few, if any, other spaces in America today with both the time and the mandate for this kind of sustained, considered reflection."