Challenging Racism and Oppression in Academia
Colleges and universities offer incredible resources for learning and connecting with others from many backgrounds and life experiences. They are ideally situated to help us learn from our shared past while we move forward together. All voices must have an opportunity to be heard–especially those whose voices have been marginalized. Therefore, it is crucial that access to quality education be available to all who seek it.
We are witnessing the dawning of a broader awareness of what many of us have lived and known firsthand: that for far too long, systemic racism has been under-acknowledged. The origins and manifestations of injustice in our nation’s history, in our contemporary culture, and especially in our own individual actions, need to be examined and challenged.
We call for each of us to undertake this difficult process, as best we are able. To support our ability–as individuals, as communities, and as a society–to realize justice, we also call for all in higher education–students, faculty, staff members, and the larger campus community–to create environments which foster deep listening, speaking, and inquiry. Contemplative practices of all sorts offer powerful means of creating and sustaining these environments. Racism and intersecting forms of oppression and injustice manifest in academia as they do in our broader culture, and unless directly and honestly confronted, will endure.
Please feel free to list additional resources in the comments.
Baptist, Edward E. (2014). The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. New York: Basic Books.
Berila, Beth. (2014). “Contemplating the Effects of Oppression: Integrating Mindfulness into Diversity Classrooms.” The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry, 1(1). Retrieved from http://journal.contemplativeinquiry.org/index.php/joci/article/view/5.
Blackmon, Douglas A. (2009). Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York: Anchor Books.
Carter, Christopher and Schoen, Seth. (2014). “Contemplative Race Theory.” Unpublished manuscript. Retrieved from https://www.contemplativemind.org/files/ConRaceTheory_PUB_Draft.pdf.
Dalton, Harlon. (1996). Racial Healing: Confronting the Fear Between Blacks & Whites. New York: Anchor Books.
Freire, Paulo. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Publishing Company.
Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella; Flores Niemann, Yolanda; González, Carmen G.; Harris, Angela P. (Eds.). (2012). Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.
hooks, bell. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.
Kivel, Paul. (2011). Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Kyodo Williams, Angel. (2002). Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace. New York: Penguin Books.
Lueke, Adam and Gibson, Bryan. (2014). “Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias: The Role of Reduced Automaticity of Responding.” Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi:10.1177/
Paris, Rae. (December 8, 2014). “An Open Letter of Love to Black Students: #BlackLivesMatter.” Retrieved from http://blackspaceblog.com/2014/12/08/an-open-letter-of-love-to-black-students-blacklivesmatter/.
Quiñones-Rosado, Raúl. (2010). Consciousness-in-Action: Toward an Integral Psychology of Liberation & Transformation. Caguas, Puerto Rico: Ile Publications.
Rendón, Laura. (2009). Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy: Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice and Liberation. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
Berila, Beth. (June 5, 2014). “Towards an Embodied Social Justice: Integrating Mindfulness into Anti-Oppression Pedagogy.” Video of an ACMHE webinar. Retrieved from https://www.contemplativemind.org/archives/3004.
Chatman, Michelle. (February 26, 2014). “Using Contemplative Practices to Promote Well-Being and Social Justice Awareness.” Video of an ACMHE webinar. Retrieved from https://www.contemplativemind.org/archives/2717.
Magee, Rhonda. (May 16, 2012). “Legal Education as Contemplative, Multicultural Inquiry.” Video of an ACMHE webinar. Retrieved from https://www.contemplativemind.org/archives/344.
Quiñones-Rosado, Raúl, and Sackey-Milligan, Rose. (March 24, 2010). “Consciousness-In-Action.” Video of an ACMHE webinar. Retrieved from https://www.contemplativemind.org/archives/312.
Rendón, Laura, and Kanagala, Vijay. (February 23, 2012). “Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy and Contemplative Practice.” Video of an ACMHE webinar. Retrieved from https://www.contemplativemind.org/archives/214.
Magee, Rhonda. (September 21, 2012). “Contemplating Race, Law and Justice: Some Notes on Pedagogy for Changing the World.” Video of the 2012 ACMHE Conference keynote address. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_D9Dq22x7I.
powell, john. (October 30, 2014). “A Tale of Two Movements: Why Contemplative and Transformative Education Need Each Other.” Video of the 2014 ISCS Pre-Conference keynote address. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5B4aRTI-zQ.
In my brief (four years) to contemplatives in academia I have to be of a more pernicious nature than I have experienced in over twenty five years of teaching in higher education. I believe that this is fostered by a refusal to acknowledge the social nature of reality. Contemplatives seem to reduce social issues to personal issues that can be overcome by personal silent contemplation. The contemplatives I have met also seem to think that they are an oppressed minority without taking into account that they bear the same issues of white supremacy and racism that are endemic in our society. That is sad and makes the contemplative movement irrelevant in addressing issues of social justice. Social action is decried in favor of silence which has never been effective in dealings with racism, sexism, classism and a host of social ills.
After attending and participating in several recent marches, protests and memorial for police and racial justice, the elimination of the racially derogatory name of DC’s football team (Redskins) and the passing of Marion Barry Jr. (Mayor for Life) respectively, I have become very interested and aware of the importance of contemplative practice advanced at each of these gatherings. While the memorial service was understandable infused with prayers, song and introspective silence, the protest against the racist naming of the football team led by the Native community used traditional chants, songs, spells and other forms of culturally appropriate methods of collective reflection and action.
It was the “Justice for All” march in DC organized by Rev. Al Sharpton that brought together the families of Eric Garner (“I can’t breathe”), Michael Brown (“hands up”), Trayvon Martin (Hoodie and Skittles), Tamir Rice (12 year old at the playground), John Crawford (Wal Mart), LeVar Jones (unarmed youth that survived several gunshots for a seatbelt offense) and Amadou Diallo (shot over 50 times while trying to pull out his wallet to show police his ID). It was at this march that we all were instructed to hold hands in a long period of silence and prayer. An estimated 3 – 5 thousand people holding hands in silence, meditation and prayer, became for me a powerful collective contemplative moment that brought us closer to empathy, peace and the search and demand for justice. The silence became part of an important process to unify, articulate and speak out collectively about racial injustice, a loud and clear way to demand change and action while becoming the change we seek.
I agree that we in the contemplative communities too often do not move from our personal contemplative practice of silence and introspection, to a reflective practice of interrelationships, awareness and loud and clear collective action.
This is a powerful and moving image, Brad. Thank you for sharing. Love and solidarity.
Alexander, Michelle (2011). The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press.
The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) is a must read!
Being Mindful of Race (Ruth King)
Paul Kivel website:
The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander)
I have had similar experiences to what Dr. Don Matthews reports above but found the Pre-Conference of ISCS to address my concerns and interests with its focus on transformative and contemplative education. I support the inclusion of these kinds of social justice issues in contemplative studies.
For readings I offer a couple of articles published in medical journals that report on my efforts to include social justice and mindfulness in medical education. They can be downloaded from my website:
Respect and Empathy in Teaching and Learning Cultural Medicine, Journal of General Internal Medicine
Teaching Cultural Competence Through Narrative, Family Medicine
I’d like to suggest “Confronting Racism on Campus,” a recent (aired Weds., January 14th) Google Hangout organized by Higher Ed Live: “Heather Shea Gasser connects with Dr. Stacey Wharton-Pearson, Dr. Paul Porter, Dr. Larry Roper, and Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart to discuss campus responses to racism.”
I’d like to suggest “Combined Destinies: Whites Sharing Grief About Racism” by Ann Todd Jealous and Caroline T. Haskell, Potomac Books, 2013