America is facing an extremely important decision on November 3rd; a nation facing racial unrest and divide will vote on the vision and future that best aligns with their own ideals. At Kritik, we believe that education is the foundation for equality, growth and prosperity for future generations. We also believe that the quality of education a student receives is directly correlated with their ability to participate in civil discourse once they move on to the real world. We sat down with Dr. Bridget Goosby to learn how she enables her students to constructively engage in civil discourse in the classroom by educating them on how to express themselves and the feelings they have regarding the pressing and sensitive issues facing America today.
Your course is called Race, Ethnicity and Health, which are all pressing topics in the current political climate of the United States. How do your activities and assignments contribute to the important discussions in your class?
I structure my activities based on reflective thought. I will conduct my lecture online and then have my students create their response to the prompt based on the topic we discussed. I then schedule my activities to have the students evaluate and provide feedback on feedback to their evaluators 2 weeks after the activity was initially assigned. This allows students to revisit their peers’ work while they are learning new topics during the course. As opposed to having students submit their work and move on to the next topic, I incorporate Kritik to encourage students to revisit material to continue their development of ideas associated with the topics. This replicates a post academic environment where students' ideas on a topic are constantly changing, especially with the introduction of new ideas. Kritik enables my students to reflect upon prior work in the class to improve their future work, while learning new concepts and ideas from me as well as their peers throughout the course.
Some of your activities in Kritik involve discussions with residential segregation, health inequities among minorities, etc. The students who take your course learn about essential topics and issues that will shape their future. In this era of racial divide, how important does the role of education take in bridging the gap?
Education plays a HUGE role in the advancement of harmony in our country! A lot of students (especially freshmen) see and feel the inequities around them, but do not understand how to communicate those feelings to others around them. The role that I play is to provide these students with the vocabulary to express themselves and the feelings they have regarding these issues in our country. While they may experience inequities around them, I need to be able to provide them with data and the tools (like Kritik) to understand these inequities and what they mean. Whether it’s data sets, peer reviewed articles from reputable journals, or media sources they can trust, I want to be able to allow anyone to be a keeper of information, not just old, white men that allow the brutal history of this country to remain hidden and unnoticed. I teach my students to understand their place in the world by having reliable, diverse sources of information around them. Many of my students do not recognize how much they benefited from the mistreatment of others. Many of my students that are of a visible minority don’t understand the vast effects of inequalities and how extreme it was.
"Kritik creates an environment where students are hearing a voice that is not mine, but rather the people around them in diverse or similar situations, which is incredibly empowering as students mature and find their footing in this world."
At UT, you are teaching students that are actively interested in the subject matter and largely agree with the material you teach. Have you been in a situation where your class disagrees with the material you teach (racial inequities in health)?
I learned quickly how divided our country is in my first teaching role after my doctorate at a university in the Midwest. I had very little teaching experience and was tasked with teaching family diversity to students from rural Nebraska; many of which had never even interacted with Black people, let alone a Black woman in an authoritative role. I was always challenged by the students on the material I taught, and I was accused of favoring the “one Black person in the class”. On a few occasions, a student in my class would express that they had no idea how bad the United States was in terms of their history because of their family’s bias towards Fox News and racial discriminatory behaviour at home. Those moments were incredibly rewarding; through education, I had exposed students to think for themselves and make a decision based on their own beliefs. Unfortunately, the pushback I received from the students became so bad that my department chair moved me out of that class and encouraged me to teach more about health disparity. I was able to teach based on the facts of the racial health inequities based on indisputable facts, and students started to enroll because they were interested in the material. Now at UTexas, the students enrolled in my classes are extremely passionate about the subject matter and more receptive to this kind of subject matter. I also learned more about creating a stronger environment for discussing sensitive subject matter. I get the students involved by suggesting what ground rules work and work together to set boundaries for the students to interact within. If you participate in the formation of ground rules and cannot abide by them, you can find a different class to disrupt because that is not fair to the other students who are there to learn.
Kritik’s unique comment flagging system allows students to identify insensitive comments on the platform and notify the instructor for removal so that instructors can moderate the anonymous communication between students.
What types of activities do you want to create in future iterations of this course to make it even more effective?
With the course being online, I am using Kritik for an interesting alternative to a traditional final exam. The students have formed groups and have proposed a topic that they wish to explore as it relates to the material within the course. Through Kritik, the students will now have an opportunity to also evaluate the other groups’ work on different topics, which is an excellent opportunity to learn more about topics they did not work on personally. I will also be evaluating the submissions, and the Kritik system will enable students to compare to how I graded that same piece of work, while also exposing students to important topics.
What have you heard from your students in terms of their use of Kritik?
The university polls the students around the midway point of the term, and the students had a lot to say about Kritik! The students really enjoy the anonymity of the platform, as they are providing in depth feedback to one another to strengthen their learning. Kritik has really succeeded in personalizing the students’ education; in an isolated, online environment, Kritik has given the students an outlet for positive, structured conversation that I don’t need to spend extra time grading.
Kritik is a Canadian company, so our only understanding of the American political climate is through conversations with professors like you, Dr. Goosby. What is the feeling on campus / in your class regarding the election?
Students and faculty are incredibly anxious. Regardless of the outcome, it is troubling to know that there will be civil unrest. This environment is not conducive for learning, especially when learning is online and not as effective. The topics we discuss in my class are heavy, but the students understand the importance of the material because they see the application of it in the world around them. Students are deeply impacted by the situation, so at the end of every lecture I share a picture of a baby animal, which they seem to appreciate!
Education can be a catalyst for positive change. It is courses like Dr. Goosby’s that enable students to form their own opinions and shed the ideals projected upon them by the uneducated or ignorant. The Catch-22 that arises is that students only have the opportunity to learn more about the inequities surrounding minorities through expensive university tuition, further bridging the gap between the truth and wanting to learn more. At Kritik, we strive to work with educators like Dr. Goosby to create a stronger environment for students to discuss sensitive subject matter and formalize opinions to ultimately be better equipped to succeed in these rapidly changing and uncertain times.
About Dr. Bridget Goosby: Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also the co-director of the Life in Frequencies Health Disparities (LifeHD) Research Lab. Her primary research area specializes in identifying pathways linking racial discrimination and other forms of social marginalization to racial inequities in health over the life course and across generations.