UM to hold summer anti-racism classes

UM to hold summer anti-racism classes


The University of Montana is hosting three summer classes focused on dismantling racism.

The classes, AAST 291: The New Jim Crow to Black Lives Matter, AAST 491: Dismantling Racism: From Theory to Practice, and HSTA 342: African American History to 1865, will all be held online.

Tobin Miller Shearer, associate professor of history and director of the African American Studies program at UM, is teaching two sections of the Dismantling Racism class this summer, one regular four-credit class and a one-credit version for continuing-education students.

He said his colleagues had been grappling with how to respond to the recent civil unrest that came after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. His department released a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement but wanted to do more.

“We just thought, ‘how can we best support the Black Lives Matter movement right now?’” Shearer said. “And we had this stuff we could put out now, we had the courses on the books. So we got it started.”

Shearer’s course is designed to give students practical tools to be actively anti-racist, as he describes it, equipping them with a “road map to dismantle racism in their institution.”

Olivia Perez, a sophomore at UM studying public health and communication, enrolled in Shearer’s Dismantling Racism course to better equip herself to stand against intolerance. Growing up in Polson, on the Flathead Reservation, she said she’s experienced racism first hand. 

“I want to learn how we could change things, how we can address the problem and work together to solve it,” Perez said. “Because in my one year on campus, I definitely didn't feel like anyone was working together.”

Perez said she hopes to learn how to explain injustices more directly, how to point out racism in its face and describe why it’s wrong.

“I feel like this will really help me know what to say,” she said. “I want to help them understand us. And I feel like this class is a great opportunity to help me learn different points of views and different histories.”

Shearer said putting together syllabi for the classes and jump-starting them a session ahead of plan wasn’t difficult, because these classes have been in the works for a while. Two of the classes, Dismantling Racism and African American History to 1865, will be offered during the normal fall semester as well.

Even though the courses will be held through UM and taught by UM professors, registration will be open for any Montana University System (MUS) student, Shearer said. The credit will transfer to any MUS institution.

“We are going to set aside any complication (among campuses) because this is way more important,” he said.

To facilitate this undertaking, Shearer reached out to Brock Tessman, deputy commissioner for academic, research and student affairs for the MUS.

Tessman said this kind of universal course and credit system is something he’s been trying to instate for awhile. He thought that Shearer’s courses were a perfect jumping-off point for this system.

“The classes Professor Shearer is looking to advertise were built to accept that kind of enrollment for students across the state, and what better example of one of our campuses truly serving the state?” Tessman said. “I don’t mean to restrict it just to the anti-racism classes, but I think this summer, there’s no class more relevant to be offered to all our students.”

Tessman said these classes would be a great model for future campus class collaboration.

Alhaji Conteh, a professor at the University of Connecticut, will be teaching The New Jim Crow class. He has taught in the African American Studies Program at UM in the past, and will be returning in the fall to teach African American History to 1865.

He said truly understanding the history of racism is important to understanding the issue of racism as a whole.

“As a historian, I think understanding how we got to this point is always important. Students don't always understand how racism developed in the United States,” Conteh said. “People think racism has always existed, but when you look at the history of it, racism has a lot more to do with colonization and slavery, and it developed as a justification.”

Where Shearer’s course is focused more on individual action, Conteh said his course is targeted toward educating students on this historical context.

“And once we see how racism was developed, it gives us a better understanding of how to dismantle it,” he said. “Once we see that it was something created by people, it gives us a better idea of where to start to dismantle it.”

MUS students who wish to register for the summer session of any of these courses can do so by contacting the UM summer staff registration officers.

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