UMSL’s Anti-Racist Educator Group Aims to Create a Culture of Appreciation on Campus – UMSL Daily


As noted in a flyer for the event, the group of anti-racism educators aimed for the discussion of land acknowledgments to be just a starting point for a larger conversation. (Image courtesy of the Center for Teaching and Learning)

Like the University of Missouri-St. Students, faculty and staff at Louis settled in for a virtual discussion last week, with a slide asking attendees what brought them to the event displayed on screen. “Land reconnaissance interest” read one response. “I seek to engage with like-minded people and learn more about how to promote equity and awareness of Indigenous social issues, read another. Although the dozen responses each varied slightly, one common thread ran through them all: the desire to learn.

For Erin Whitteck, teaching assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry and assistant director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, that was precisely the goal.

On November 3, Whitteck and the Center for Teaching and Learning hosted a Zoom discussion for UMSL faculty, staff, and students on “Building a Culture of Appreciation at UMSL.” In honor of Native American Heritage Month, the session aimed to explore two questions: “What is a land recognition?” and “How can a territorial recognition be used as a starting point to recognize the history of our region?”

According to the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, land acknowledgments “honor the Indigenous peoples of a place — past and present — and acknowledge the history that brought us where we are today. They are meant to recognize how we have inadvertently benefited from the history of colonization, kidnapping and genocide of Indigenous peoples.

UMSL’s virtual roundtable on the topic was organized by the Anti-Racism Educators Group, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and staff facilitated by the Center for Teaching and Learning. Originally formed following the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, the group has continued to engage in dialogue about the context of college in St. Louis and its connection to teaching and learning. The group’s ultimate goal is to “brainstorm anti-racist educational strategies and reflect on how to apply this knowledge to our courses and activities.”

“We’ve been meeting and learning together for two and a half years now and we’ve created a pretty strong community,” Whitteck said. “We kind of worked backwards in our history; we looked at the history of St. Louis in our context.

With the help of Dana Klar, an associate teacher in the Child Advocacy Studies program and a member of the United Houma Nation, one of the topics the group has begun to explore is land recognition. Neither UMSL nor the University of Missouri system currently have land acknowledgments in place, which inspired the group to not only delve into the issue themselves, but open the conversation to others. around campus.

“We’ve reflected and learned on the ground we’re sitting on here at UMSL,” Whitteck said. “Land acknowledgments are very complex, so we just wanted to open up the conversation more and hear about the conversations other people are having on campus – I know we’re not the only ones having these conversations. It’s sort of the starting point for a conversation about acknowledging our history and context and not ignoring what’s happened in the region. How we build that culture of recognition in all of the different spaces – in our institution and beyond – and how that context affects students, faculty and staff, how we teach, and how we integrate some of those ideas into our courses.

As Whitteck pointed out to the group at the start of the session, the panel was meant to be the start of this conversation – not the end. So the goal was not to leave the event with a written acknowledgment of the territory, but to start building a culture of recognition on campus. In addition to Klar, panelists included Paul Van Wert, assistant professor of accounting, and Aimee Dunlap, associate professor of biology, all of whom were quick to point out that they were not experts on the subject, but simply interested in sharing their own learning process.

Klar opened the conversation with his thoughts on how land acknowledgments can be meaningful rather than just performative, acknowledging that the latter concern has led the group to discuss the issue for almost two years now without clear action.

“In my view, earth acknowledgements are performative and are just words if there is no real meaning behind them – a real commitment, a real relationship, an ongoing commitment to truly acknowledge and serve and be in community with these people who are the original ancestors, the first keepers of the land,” Klar said.

Throughout the hour, the conversation spanned different aspects of the topic, including discussions of how land acknowledgments connect to professional practice, expectations for land-grant institutions, fakes steps into existing land acknowledgments, ideas on how institutions can support this work, and book suggestions. and films for those who wish to delve deeper into the subject. Guests were encouraged to “sit out of curiosity” and ask questions in the chat, in the hopes that they would spark future conversation for an upcoming in-person event scheduled for 12:30-1:30 p.m. on December 1.

“It’s something that the university as a whole needs to intentionally undertake and develop so that everyone is involved in the process, and that’s what we’re going to focus on,” Whitteck said. “It’s a process, not a product. I don’t want my voice or even the voices of the panelists to be the only ones heard. We want to start a conversation with everyone in the community.

More information and resources about the event are available here.

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