Teaching Race and Gender Theory - A Toolkit

Teaching Race and Gender Theory - A Toolkit

Teaching Race and Gender Theory in the Undergraduate Humanities Classroom: a Toolkit

Why Turn a Course into a Toolkit? 

In spring 2017, Cathy N. Davidson and Michael Gillespie co-taught a graduate seminar, “Teaching Race and Gender Theory in the Undergraduate Humanities Classroom” at the CUNY Graduate Center. This student-centered, active learning class was broken up into four topics (pedagogy, literary and expressive culture, visuality and new media, and music) and a group of graduate students was responsible for designing activities, assignments, homework, and lesson plans for each topic.

Collaborative syllabus designed by graduate students (Google Docs)
Collaborative syllabus designed by graduate students (Google Docs)

As the graduate fellow responsible for the technological aspect of this course, my task was to create a digital environment that would support this peer-driven and student-led learning. Throughout the semester, students used a customized course site on our Futures Initiative CBOX installation. The site had spaces for different kinds of discussion -- public or private -- and each group chose how they wanted to use the site to support their pedagogical goals. Given the sensitive nature of many of the topics, several groups opted to use the private discussion forum throughout the semester as they assigned discussion questions for homework.

Internal class website used by graduate students and instructors in “Teaching Race and Gender Theory in the Undergraduate Humanities Classroom” at the CUNY Graduate Center (Wordpress, Commons in a Box)

Internal discussion forum

After each of the four groups presented their lessons, they posted recaps of their lesson plans, assignments, and activities to HASTAC, the world’s first academic social networks, in an effort to share their learning with a wider audience beyond the classroom. They posted this work to the public group I created for the course, so that anyone looking for information related to methods for teaching race and gender theory could easily learn more.

Students post final projects to HASTAC group

At the end of the semester, students were encouraged (if they felt comfortable) to post their final projects to the group so that others could benefit from what they learned this semester. Most of the students chose to create syllabi for undergraduate courses and have made them publicly available for others to learn from, borrow, use, and remix.

From Class Blog to Public Toolkit

As a graduate fellow, my final project was to turn all of these materials into a “Toolkit” that could help anyone interested in designing a class with race, gender, sexuality, and intersectional issues at the core or who was interested in how to use HASTAC and other online tools and communities in their own classrooms. Below you will find the HASTAC collection I created based on these materials. I have organized the content into categories that others can easily navigate to find relevant information.

In this toolkit, you will find…

1) information about the course

2) the materials students generated for the course, including lesson plans for each unit

3) students’ final projects, many of which are syllabi for undergraduate courses inspired by the seminar and

4) supplementary blog posts and resources

Especially given the topic of the course, this work could not be more urgent. For instructors who may be interested in teaching race and gender theory to undergraduates, this collection of materials will provide an invaluable starting point and inspiration for their work.


Part One: Course information

Course Description

Welcome to “Teaching Race and Gender Theory in the Undergraduate Classroom”!  We anticipate an exciting semester, and one that will be inspiring and helpful as you think about your own teaching and ways you can infuse issues of equity and critical justice into your own research and your own teaching.  This is a student-centered, active learning class and you will be shaping the four “Topics” around which the class is based and we look forward to what we can all do together this term.

The course is designed as both an introduction to core concepts of race and gender theory and as a course in the pedagogy of teaching race and gender in the introductory undergraduate humanities classroom. We will be reading a number of key texts, largely in the disciplinary areas of film, literary, and cultural theory, from the perspective of critical race theory, feminist theory, queer theory, visual culture studies, intersectional theory, and gender and sexuality theory. We will also be reading constructivist, student-centered, activist, engaged learning theory.

The course begins from the premise that profound work in race and gender theory occurs in introductory courses throughout the humanities. Introductory courses are among the most challenging to teach and as CUNY graduate students, you have sole responsibility for teaching them on the CUNY campuses. This course is specifically designed to help prepare them for their crucial role in higher education at CUNY and beyond.

In demographic terms, the college drop-out rate is highest in introductory undergraduate courses. In disciplinary terms, introductory courses are where students are most likely to determine a later course of study—a major or graduate school. In intellectual terms, introductory courses help create the critical lens through which students view the rest of their learning, in school and out. Yet, very little pedagogical training in graduate school focuses on methods for engaging students who are encountering race and gender theory for the first time, on how to integrate race and gender theory into a general introductory humanities curriculum, on how to connect the core concepts in an introductory course with a graduate student’s own specialized research, and on how race and gender are interconnected and converge in the terms of intersectionality.

We will divide the course into four topics or  “modules,” with a thematic focus and one or two assigned book(s) in each.  Students will then work in groups and be responsible for two session, one on concepts, and one on a methodology or pedagogical tactic for presenting this concept in an undergraduate classroom.  Assignments might include writing a section of a syllabus that incorporates the key theme or concept into an introductory survey or another kind of course.

Since this course will be a student-led course with graduate students creating some or all of the syllabus together via a Google Doc exercise that models student-centered pedagogy, we will not finalize all the readings and viewings in advance.



Part Two: Course Recaps

“Teaching Race and Gender Theory” was divided into four topics or  “modules,” with a thematic focus and one or two assigned book(s) in each. Each student was part of a group of three or four responsible for one of the four topics in the course, presented over two class periods. The instructors assigned one or two readings for each topic and the groups assigned other materials, guided discussion of the readings, and designed pedagogical exercises for teaching the material to undergraduates. Each group was responsible for two sessions, one on concepts, and one on a methodology or pedagogical tactic for presenting this concept in an undergraduate classroom. For example, students were encouraged to assign activities such as writing a section of a syllabus that incorporates the key theme or concept into an introductory survey or another kind of course.

Congenial, engaged, responsible participation and leadership in one of the four topic-based groups was an essential component of the class. Equality of participation and responsible participation were key parts of collaboration and rarely addressed in a meaningful way as part of pedagogical practice.  

Each group created an annotated bibliography or narrative blog describing what they did in their course sessions and providing articles, books, websites, films, and other resources on your topic (posted here). The purpose of these course recaps is to help others who will be working to teach race and gender theory in the undergraduate classroom.

A. Pedagogy (Sylvia, Damele, Jesse)

“Teaching to Transgress”: Vulnerability, Demystification, and Identity in the Classroom

B.  Literary and Expressive Culture (Maxine, Chy, Anna)

Teaching Theories of Gender, Race, and Literary and Expressive Culture

C. Visuality and New Media (Erica, Katie, Aily, Mike)

Using new media to teach race and gender theory

Confronting Racist Stereotypes through the “Racial Grotesque”

D. Music (Nicky, Sara, Darren)

Nicky Hutchins, Music in the Race and Gender Theory Classroom

Part Three: Final Projects

Race and gender in the undergraduate writing classroom

Sara Deniz Akant, syllabus and reflections for “‘I Would Use the Kitchen Sink’: Writing as Re-Vision, Re-Mix, Re-Search”

Maxine Krenzel, syllabus and reflections for research writing course, “Memoir, Memory, and Revisioning History

Jesse Rice-Evans, syllabus and reflections for “Self & Other in Literature”

Darren Wood, syllabus and reflections for “Writing Your Way to a New Theory of Race and Racism”

Anna Zeemont, syllabus and reflections for a first-year writing course, “Literacy, Culture, and Identity”


Race and gender in the undergraduate literature classroom

Erica Campbell, syllabus and reflections for “Contemporary Black Writers”


Race and gender in the undergraduate media classroom

Katie Contess, syllabus and reflections for “From Mayberry to ‘Netflix and Chill’: Topics in Television, Race, Gender, and Class”


Race and gender in the undergraduate general humanities classroom

Sylvia Beltran, syllabus and reflections on creating an equitable environment

Nicky Hutchins, syllabus and reflections for “Exploring Race, Gender, and Sexuality Theories through the Arts”


Race and gender theory in the MFA classroom

Aily Nash, syllabus and reflections for MFA in Digital & Interdisciplinary Art Practice workshop, “The Operative Image: Approaches to the Political in Contemporary Moving Image Practice”


Part Four: Supplementary Blogs, Bibliographies, and Resources

Michelle Morales, Why Wordpress? Take Control and Build Your Own Class Site

Michael Boyce Gillespie, One Step Ahead: A Conversation with Barry Jenkins (Film Quarterly)

Cathy N. Davidson, How Do You Teach (Responsibly) A Racist Text in an Era of Rampant Racism?

Cathy N. Davidson, My Five Best, Easiest Active Learning Tactics for Reflection

Cathy N. Davidson, Race, Racism, the Art Market, and the Whitney Biennial: A Head-Spinning Syllabus of Useful Readings

Cathy N. Davidson, Hey, Prof: Feeling Torn and Divided? How We Can Put Teaching and Scholarship Together Again

Cathy N. Davidson, Ten Key Ways to “Do” College: How to Get a Better Education for a Better Life

Cathy N. Davidson, Ten Easy Ways to Energize Your Classroom Tomorrow: You Student Will Love It and So Will You

Cathy N. Davidson, Why Start with Pedagogy? 4 Good Reasons, 4 Good Solutions

Structuring Equality: A Handbook of Student-Centered Learning and Teaching

Danica Savonick, Event Recap: Media Blackness

Danica Savonick, Event Recap: Futures Initiative Spring Symposium

Featured photo credit, Dorret on flickr

Collection Content

1 comment

As a contribution to this toolkit on teaching race, gender, and intersectional theory,  I am reposting, with permission of Instructor Deshonay Dozier, an exceptionally useful and smart website for her course on "Debates in Psychology."  Ms. Dozier structures her General Psychology course at LaGuardia Community College around the key, meaningful, essential debates in psychology (nature v. nurture anyone?).  This is a crucial way of turning a course in basic concepts into one that engages students in the act of thinking what those concepts mean, what they reveal and what they hid.

Ms. Dozier is a Humanities Alliance Fellow and a doctoral student at the Graduate Center CUNY.  As a Humanities Alliance Fellow, she is part of the very first cohort (at the Graduate Center and nationally) in an exceptionally ambitious Mellon Foundation grant designed to train doctoral students to teach in the nation's community colleges.  If this website is any example, this program is also identifying the next generation of higher education leaders. 

Thank you for posting this, Deshonay Dozier, so we can all learn from your students' learning: