Black Minds Matter course strives to combat inequities in education

Jason Dorsette, a Ph.D student at OSU and an Educational Opportunities Program staff member, stressed the importance of community members participating in the Black Minds Matter course, calling it, “our collective obligations.”

Jada Krening, News Correspondent

This term, Oregon State University’s Educational Opportunities Program and Advancing Academic Equity for Student Success is hosting Black Minds Matter, a free course that focuses on issues impacting black students’ success.

Black Minds Matter covers a variety of topics, such as the best practices of working with black students, how to be more inclusive in classroom settings, the disparities of outcomes in education, the history of inequities in the United States’ educational system and the higher levels of discipline for black students.

The course is 10 weeks long, and includes videos, lectures, discussions and action-step planning. Participation is voluntary, and has included a wide range of individuals from all areas of the university, such as administrators, professors, faculty and graduate students.

Black Minds Matter was created by J. Luke Wood, a social scientist and distinguished professor of education at San Diego State University. Wood said he began developing Black Minds Matter after the shooting death of Alfred Olango, a Ugandan refugee who was killed by El Cajon Police in San Diego. 

“Many of our students were deeply affected by this event, and we wanted to ensure that educators were aware that the same patterns that occur in policing often occur in the schooling of black males,” Wood said via email. “Black lives and black minds are intertwined. If one does not value the life, then they certainly will not value the mind.”

Black Minds Matter took Wood about four months to develop. Since its first class, there have been nearly 500 sites and over 20,000 people across the nation that have participated in the course.

“Nearly all predominantly white campuses struggle with racial issues. Black students are often treated with distrust, are viewed as being academically inferior, and as being lesser than,” Wood said in an email. “These stereotypes create a markedly different experience for them in comparison to their peers. Black Minds Matter is an affirmation that black students indeed matter.”

The course strives to combat inequities in education, and originally began with a focus on black males, but Dorian Smith, the coordinator of Black Student Access and Success in OSU’s EOP, said OSU has since expanded the program to include all gender identities.

EOP, created in 1969, aims to provide a welcoming environment for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Smith, in collaboration with other EOP employees, including Kim McAloney, the academic engagement coordinator for EOP, and Jason Dorsette, a Ph.D student at OSU and EOP team member, brought Black Minds Matter to OSU for the first time last year. Since their initial cohort, the number of participants has continued to grow. 

Kate Shay, an instructor of biochemistry and biophysics at OSU and a participant in Black Minds Matter, said one reason she decided to take the course was to better understand how she could support black students, specifically after one of her undergraduate students, a black woman, decided to leave the university. 

“Instead of just saying that we find these issues important, or that we wish things were better for black students, the course gives us an entry point for having conversations with one another,” Shay said via email. “These discussions shouldn’t just happen in forums like Black Minds Matter—they should happen all the time. Too frequently, I and other white members of the OSU community wait for black faculty, staff and students to initiate these conversations, when really, all of us at OSU need to step up and engage.”

Smith said he encourages members of the OSU community to participate, regardless of their background. 

“I think it’s really important. We all think it’s important, that’s why we’re volunteering our time to do this, because we really think that the title is what we should strive to do at OSU. We should make black minds matter,” Smith said. “We should eliminate this graduation gap that we have for our black students and look at how we can make this a better campus for everybody, because usually when we’re focusing on a small group, you have a positive impact on everyone.”

Dorsette stressed the importance of all OSU community members participating in Black Minds Matter, specifically considering what Dorsette called the horrific history of racist treatment and the exclusion of black folks in Oregon. 

“As future leaders and decision makers, I strongly encourage graduate students and postdoctoral students to take full advantage of this course,” Dorsette said via email. “To me, it’s our collective obligation.”

McAloney, who highlighted the historical connection between racism and  the educational system in the United States—such as preventing enslaved African-Americans to learn to read and write, funding early U.S. colleges with the sale of enslaved black individuals and building early universities with slave labor—said Black Minds Matter is an important asset in tackling the nation’s troubling past and ensuring black students are provided with equitable opportunities in today’s higher education. 

“OSU has said that closing the opportunity gap is important,” McAloney said via email. “If this is the case and OSU really wants to see black students succeed, we have work to do, and this course, conversation and intentional learning can be part of that work.”

Smith noted the importance of creating inclusive workplaces and classrooms, and said the OSU community must acknowledge the history of the state and university and strive to change its ways, rather than leaning on 150 years of tradition. 

“That’s our mission as a land-grant university, to provide this education to the masses, and it really starts with us—the folks who are the professors, the deans, the administrators, the faculty, the classified faculty, everyone who works here—to see the value in these black minds, to not have a one-size-fits-all mindset when we’re in the classroom or working in meetings with these students, and to appreciate their experiences,” Smith said.

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