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Friday, May 24, 2024
Manya Whitaker connected current activism on college campuses to that of the Civil Rights era, and encouraged teaching faculty to use these movements in their instruction. 

Manya Whitaker connected current activism on college campuses to that of the Civil Rights era, and encouraged teaching faculty to use these movements in their instruction. 

Speaker stresses importance of ‘lived experience’ in classrooms

Student activism plays a key role in dismantling social, political and economic structures, according to Manya Whitaker. She encouraged instructors to support student movements through pedagogy that prepares young activists to thrive in the current sociopolitical context.

Whitaker, an assistant professor at Colorado College, said in her lecture titled “Teaching to and through Social Justice” that she realized early in her teaching career that the experiences her students had outside of the classroom greatly impacted the manner in which they absorbed new information.

“I can’t teach content when [students] don’t have the context,” Whitaker said. “Classrooms have students whose experiences may not be aligned with our own, and thus [educators] need to adjust our pedagogy to align with their needs, not ours.”

She highlighted the connection between activism happening on college campuses today and the origins of the Civil Rights movement. Whitaker said faculty need to be deliberate about bridging what is learned in the classroom to what their students confront in their everyday lives.

“It is our responsibility not only as faculty members who occupy elite positions in society, but as human beings, to show our students that their out of class lived experiences are at the core of ... the pursuit of freedom,” Whitaker said.

Creating an environment that encourages the connection of these experiences honors and empowers students, according to Whitaker. She said it ultimately prevents them from feeling as though they need to choose between their intellectual and political selves.

In order to prepare students to be engaged citizens, Whitaker said that educators must align their teaching content to the current sociopolitical culture.

“Our students are being educated at a pivotal moment,” Whitaker said. “What was important the last time you taught a class is rarely as important the next time you teach, because you changed, the students changed and the context is new. Connecting our students’ academic and intellectual selves to what they call ‘the real world’ is essential.”

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