Race in the classroom: Race and Pedagogy Working Group seeks to better understand the experiences of underrepresented students

July 6, 2021


Data-driven decision making is essential but can prove challenging when limited data are available. The University of Chicago’s Race and Pedagogy Working Group (RPWG) hopes to address the lack of data on people’s experiences with race in the classroom. Composed of UChicago educators and scholars, the RPWG is committed to promoting racial justice in higher education. Each quarter, the group hosts a number of events for educators to come together and reflect on how race affects the classroom environment. In addition, the group is also gathering data for a project titled “Race, Ethnicity, and Learning at the University of Chicago.” The goal of the project is to use data to understand the racialized experience in UChicago classrooms to identify opportunities for positive change. 

“This has been the driving force of our work this year,” said Julius L. Jones, PhD student in the Department of History and one of the RPWG coordinators. “We’re thinking about how race is taught and really focusing in on the experience of Black people at the University.”  

In December 2020, the RPWG hosted a virtual town hall on race. Nearly 200 people attended the event, which was open to all members of the University community. During the town hall, undergraduate and graduate students described their experiences on campus and their relationships with the South Side community. Although the content shared during the town hall was enlightening, the RPWG recognized that additional work was needed.

“It was great to hear from so many people who were willing to speak to a group of that size and share their stories, but we realize it didn’t represent everyone,” said Allison Kannon-Botan, PhD student in the Divinity School and RWPG coordinator. “We needed to give more people an opportunity to talk about their experiences in greater detail.”

Feedback from the event was used to develop a series of five focus groups that were held during the Spring Quarter across units. The intent of the focus groups was to give people an opportunity to expand on the issues raised during the town hall. Thirty students participated in the focus groups and discussed their sense of belonging, mentorship relationships, the campus’s relationship to the South Side community, the impact of remote learning, and more.

The RPWG is currently preparing a report on the results of the focus group data which it plans to share with University administration. The group hopes to deliver an accessible document that reflects the richness of the personal information provided and includes suggestions for actionable next steps. 

For the latest information about the RPWG, visit its website.