You may have participated in Black Lives Matter or #MeToo protests in the past few years. Perhaps you’ve wondered how the values of those movements can manifest in your classroom. Or you might be wondering what the proclamation by President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., that Metropolitan State University of Denver is an anti-racist institution might mean for your teaching.  

Take a SIP of this: engaging with anti-oppressive pedagogy  

Anti-oppressive pedagogy is any pedagogy that works to dismantle oppressive structures such as racism, sexism, ableism and patriarchy. Anti-oppressive practice recognizes that oppression is systemic and intersectional.  

What can you do?  

  • Acknowledge that whether or not you intend to oppress anyone, students may be oppressed by your practices. Many conventional academic practices are informed by implicit racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression. For example, requiring students to work in small groups during class time may put additional stress on students who are neurodivergent. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put students in small groups, but perhaps you could allow for “groups of one” or come up with an alternative for folks who want one. Common terms such as “broken English” or “nonstandard English” reflect a white-supremacist attitude about language, even if you don’t consciously embrace white-supremacist values.  
  • Reflect on and address your privilege in the classroom. This may mean acknowledging the privileged identities you bring with you to the classroom and teaching. Telling students it is “common sense” to visit a professor’s office hours for help understanding concepts belies a privileged, educated perspective that not all students share.  
  • Be accountable and transparent about whose voices are heard in class discussions. For example, you could have students take turns auditing who speaks and who doesn’t in class discussions. Or you could implement cogenerative dialogues, or cogens, a method that hip-hop pedagogue Christopher Emdin uses to empower students to give senstive feedback and co-create the classroom climate. These strategies allow the professor to better understand how their teaching comes across, cutting through what their intentions are and getting to the impacts.  
  • Review and revise the language in your syllabi and assignments through an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist lens. When you read through your policies with a focus on anti-ableism, for example, you may find that an attendance policy that seemed to be “common sense” and benign now feels like it assumes able-bodiedness and economic privilege. You may make discoveries like this and be stymied over what to do. There is no one “right” policy. You might invite students to help you revise the policy or you might talk with colleagues or the Access Center.  
  • Consider whether your grading criteria are inflected with white supremacy, heterosexism or other oppressive values. If you use rubrics, review them with an eye toward embedded white values. Many rubrics, for instance, list “standard English,” but there is no indication of whose standard is being applied and why that standard has been chosen. If your rubric indicates that essays should be “well-written,” make explicit what you mean by that.  
  • Communicate with students about academic integrity and behavioral issues before filing reports and involving authorities. BIPOC students and students from other historically oppressed groups are more likely to be cited for academic-integrity and behavioral violations beginning in elementary school. Our implicit biases can cause us to see an Asian American student’s plagiarism as a more egregious violation than a white student’s plagiarism. You can seek counsel from the Office of Student Accountability and Behavioral Intervention when you are not sure if your implicit biases are clouding your judgment.  

Still thirsty?

Take another SIP of engaging with anti-oppressive pedagogy