Why are you still teaching? Professor pledges to ‘deconstruct whiteness’ in all her courses

Toni Airaksinen, Campus Reform

An assistant professor at the University of Iowa has pledged to devote her classes to making her “mostly white” graduate students aware of their “white privilege.”

Jodi Linley, an education professor at the University of Iowa, detailed her extensive commitment to teaching classes that “deconstruct whiteness” in an academic journal article published Monday, arguing that to do otherwise would make her “complicit” in perpetuating white supremacy and white privilege.

“As a white assistant professor of mostly white graduate students who will become higher education leaders, I work to dismantle whiteness in my curriculum, assignments, and pedagogy,” Linley explains, noting that in addition to her “white identity,” she also draws on her “identities as a queer, able-bodied, cisgender woman” with a working-class background to construct her “teaching paradigm.”

Linley says her commitment to designing classes that fight white privilege began as soon as she became a professor in 2014, at which point she resolved to “develop courses that both unveiled and rejected” the notion that “neutrality and objectivity are realistic and attainable.”

Such “supposedly neutral” curricula, Linley explains, is a type of teaching that fails to take an active stance against racism and other forms of injustice, thereby intrinsically perpetuating “hegemonic racism, sexism, classism, ableism, cisgenderism, and heterosexism.”

Her inspiration came, in part, from attending the inaugural White Privilege Conference 17 years ago, which provided her an ideological springboard for the rest of her work. Since then, Linley has fought white privilege in numerous ways, such as teaching white fraternity students about white privilege and studying the way white people “respond when their privilege is challenged.”

She offers up five strategies other professors can use to deconstruct white privilege in their own classes, such as making sure students know that their views on race will be challenged, “interrupting oppression” that occurs in classroom settings, and segregating students by race so that they can have more productive dialogues about privilege.

“For white students, talking about race with an all-white group of peers facilitates their realisation that they are raced beings, thus revealing their own white ignorance,” Linley asserts as justification for segregating students during some discussions.

“Teaching mostly white graduate students is as much about teaching them how to learn as it is about the content of the courses I teach…I make explicit to my students what my pedagogical decisions are meant to facilitate,” she concludes [emphasis in original]. “Students have agency and I am firm in my belief that if they can learn how to engage their agency in critical ways, they hold the potential to improve higher education.”

Campus Reform reached out to Linley multiple times for comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen

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