ELFs and their push to incorporate Ibram X. Kendi into the school’s most important reading list.
By Melanie Moyer
The Seminar department at Saint Mary’s is designed to provide every student with the proper tools to “enter to learn, [and] leave to serve.” Engaged Learning Facilitators, also known as ELFs, raise the question of whether students are provided with the proper materials in Seminar 001 to serve the world in an anti-racist way with their petition to include Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist in the curriculum.
Anna Burke (she/her) ‘22, Melissa Goan (she/her) ‘21, Sarah Kaminsky (she/her) ‘22, Myla Love (she/her) ‘22, Aliya Patel (she/her) ‘22, and Noelle Phillips (she/her) ‘21, along with Dr. Sarah Dempsey, CILSA Associate Director for Community Engagement and Faculty Development, came out with the petition and subsequent letter after reading the book together and discovering its value in learning anti-racist behavior. They called for its inclusion in the Seminar 001 curriculum as well as the proper training for faculty to discuss anti-racism with first-year students.
In light of increased attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, the ELFs realized that the inclusion of Kendi’s book would fill in gaps of knowledge on campus about anti-racism. In an interview, Burke stated that it is essential for Seminar texts to help students move through the world comfortably, and Patel elaborated that the book provided examples of the next steps we all should be taking towards making our campus and country racially equitable.
Patel found that the book’s inclusion of tools and terms that help people identify and combat racist behavior, such as microaggressions and implicit bias, would ground students in their ability to talk about racial issues and methods of anti-racism. If implemented into the curriculum, the ELFs felt that the book would provide students with the proper guidance to make distinct definitions and ideas about the racism they encounter in their lives.
Goan wrote that “reading How To Be An Anti-Racist gave our team the time and space to actively reflect on our journeys, examining how racism permeates and pervades our lived experiences in unique and complex ways,” thus demonstrating the value this text would have if implemented into the reading list of the entire campus.
Many students at Saint Mary’s complain that Seminar texts are anachronistic and written by predominantly white male authors. The ELFs feel that the inclusion of Kendi’s book would aid in the effort to change the dominant discourse the texts present. Love felt that the book would not only be enjoyable for all audiences but also a subject everyone should be engaged with, especially considering that the #ScholarStrike and other recent social movements against racism were not universally recognized on campus. She was surprised to learn from the book that everyone is capable of being racist, including BIPOC students. The text would create the opportunity for everyone to engage with the discussions about anti-racism that are overdue on campus and in this country.
Kaminsky felt that the text would connect students around an authentic conversation that could include their learned experiences. It seems undeniable that students would be much better equipped for the world if they learned about the racism that entered their daily lives. Thus, Goan states that “one of our petition’s points is that conversations about racism and racial justice require all of our voices, and in operationalizing this vision, it made sense to direct and share our petition with the Collegiate Seminar Program.”
The petition was well received despite the constraints of COVID-19 restrictions, reaching 164 signatures in two weeks. This is made more impressive by the fact that the organization was student-driven and student-oriented. The ELFs described a feeling of pride for their community’s response to the petition, and attribute much of its success to social media and enthusiasm from the circles they shared it with. Moving forward, the ELFs will be meeting with the Seminar Board this upcoming Wednesday. The petition is still open for signatures and can be found in the links below along with Goan’s statement and the letter the team came up with.
Link to the Petition and Letter:
Melanie Moyer '22,