New Anti-Racism Course Aims to Inspire Paths of Scholarly Activism and Black Study

A person in a blue shirt holds up their hands with the words "Stop Racism" written on them. As calls for racial justice echo across the country, the University of Pittsburgh has developed a new course to allow students to gain an understanding of the county’s long struggle with anti-Black racism. 

The course, “Anti-Black Racism: History, Ideology, and Resistance,” will be offered as a required, asynchronous, one-credit offering for first-year students on the Pittsburgh campus starting this fall. Students at the regional campuses, as well as any other interested students, may also register.

“The course is designed to inform us all about Black history and culture, about the multiple forms of anti-Black racism, and about how we can be anti-racist,” said Ann E. Cudd, provost and senior vice chancellor. “It is a deposit on our commitment to transform our institution and our society, beginning with education and focusing on our future through the special class of 2024.”

Leveraging the world-renowned expertise of Pitt faculty and activists in the Pittsburgh area, the course will introduce students to the long tradition of scholarly activism, specifically on the Black experience and Black cultural expression. It will also analyze the development, spread and forms of anti-Black racism in the United States and around the world.  

Covington-Ward in a blue and purple topYolanda Covington-Ward, chair of the Department of Africana Studies in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, led a committee of faculty and students to develop the course.

“A talented committee of faculty experts came together from across the University to create this innovative course in response to the persistent challenges around anti-Black racism that drive social divisions and limit opportunities and equity for people of African descent,” said Covington-Ward. “We wanted to make sure that the course provided some historical context, while also looking at ideologies of race and contemporary struggles against anti-Black racism locally in Pittsburgh, nationally and globally as well. We also wanted to focus on the humanity of Black people in creating a course that emanates from their own perspectives, experiences and agency.”

Topics will be presented by different scholars each week, including faculty from the Departments of SociologyHistoryAfricana Studies and criminal justice in the Dietrich School, as well as the Department of Epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health and the School of Computing and Information.  

The course will be centered around three key areas: the roots, ideology and resistance to anti-Black racism. The semester will begin with an exploration of the beginnings of anti-Black racism tying it to African history, the history of slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Then, students will discuss the ideology of anti-Black racism and how it connects with the idea of racial hierarchies. The semester will also highlight the theme of resistance and look at strategies that Black activists and their allies have utilized to create a more just and equitable society.  

To explore these themes, class discussions will delve into topics such as pre-colonial African history; race, policing and mass incarceration; health disparities; racial capitalism; formal schooling and anti-Blackness; and how to be anti-racist. 

Most weeks will have at least one piece of required reading, which will be available through Canvas, along with a list of suggested texts and videos. Students will also learn about future Pitt courses they can take to further their study.

“We hope that this course is a first step in helping students to recognize and challenge anti-Black policies and practices when they encounter them, and to develop strategies to be anti-racist in their everyday lives,” said Covington-Ward.

Aside from the required readings, students will be asked to complete two brief questions after each lecture to check for comprehension. During week seven, in lieu of class, students will be asked to attend at least one synchronous activity during the Black Study Intensive from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2,  a week in which the Center of African American Poetry and Poetics (CAAPP) will hold virtual performances and creative sessions open to any discipline and the general public.

The course will be graded on a “Satisfactory/Non-Credit” basis. 

Course committee members

  • Yolanda Covington-Ward: committee chair, and chair and associate professor of the Department of Africana Studies
  • Oluchi Okafor: student representative from the Black Action Society studying Africana Studies and political science
  • Keisha N. Blain: associate professor in the Department of History
  • Nicole Mitchell: Endowed Chair in Jazz Studies in the Department of Music
  • Alaina Roberts: assistant professor in the Department of History
  • Felix Germain: associate professor in the Department of Africana Studies
  • Waverly Duck: associate professor in the Department of Sociology
  • Leigh Patel: professor in the School of Education and former associate dean for equity and justice
  • Gabby Yearwood: lecturer in the Department of Anthropology
  • Michael Goodhart: professor in the Department of Political Science and UCIS, Director of Global Studies Center
  • James Huguley: assistant professor in the School of Social Work and interim director of the Center on Race and Social Problems
  • Dawn Lundy Martin: professor in the Department of English and director of CAAPP

The committee would also like to thank Audrey Murrell, acting dean of the University Honors College, for her contributions to their work in its early stages.