Building Faculty Community by Recognizing Diversity
May 5, 2015 | Ann Kowal Smith, Rachel Burstein
Many Books@Work faculty members never have an opportunity to meet in-person, comparing notes about their experience. Many have voiced a desire to strengthen and enhance the seminar experience by building partnerships with cultural institutions in their communities. Many faculty members have told us that they’d like more resources to help them adapt to a different educational setting and a different group of learners than the ones they typically encounter in their college and university classrooms. And many faculty members hunger for materials that will allow them to convene difficult – but incredibly important – conversations about difference, discrimination and social justice in a thoughtful manner.
Last month Books@Work organized a gathering for Cleveland-area college and university professors who have taught, are teaching or plan to teach in Books@Work seminars graciously hosted by Case Western Reserve University’s Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, a major hub of humanities activity in the Northeast Ohio region.
The event presented an opportunity for attendees to socialize with other professors who share a similar commitment to broadening the reach of the humanities. But the gathering also had a more formal, substantive component, as those in attendance were introduced to the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, a prestigious prize awarded to literature that confronts racism and celebrates diversity. Cleveland-based and internationally renowned, the Award annually recognizes contributions in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and lifetime achievement, with an awards ceremony each fall and community events throughout the year.
Often, professors turn to Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners when considering titles to teach at Books@Work (and, in many cases, in their college and university classrooms as well). This is part of our effort to diversify participants’ expectations of what titles and which authors constitute “great literature” or might be identified as belonging to the literary canon, as we’ve described elsewhere. But professors’ use of these texts is also another way of building community, as faculty use Anisfield-Wolf resources in seminars and direct participants to events sponsored by or promoted by the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.
The practical meaning of these partnerships became clear at the faculty event as Karen Long and Tara Pringle Jefferson of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards gave life to this year’s winners, describing the personalities behind the texts, inspiring attendees with the power of this literature and inviting faculty to bring their Books@Work and college and university students to this year’s awards ceremony in Cleveland on September 10th.
Dr. Lisa Nielson, the Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellow at Case Western University inspired attendees with her remarks on how she has used Anisfield-Wolf works in the college classroom, a topic on which she also written. Finally, Shelly Rankins, a professor at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) and other area colleges, shared how Books@Work participants engaged in meaningful conversation about race through examination of their own family histories when discussing Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, a narrative history of the Great Migration. Wilkerson’s book was the 2011 non-fiction winner.
The professors in attendance at the event at the Baker-Nord Center hailed from many area institutions including Baldwin Wallace University, Cleveland State University, Hiram College, John Carroll University, Kent State University and Oberlin College along with Case. They represented a variety of disciplines including Classics, English, History, Music, Political Science, Religious Studies, Sociology and Urban Planning, among others.
We look forward to many opportunities to deepen our partnership with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards and with the Baker-Nord Center, identifying new and powerful texts to share with participants through Books@Work seminars, providing faculty with resources about how to deepen their impact through the use of texts that raise profound questions about social justice and diversity, and, importantly, building community in new ways.
We will use this blog to report on these activities. In the meantime, check out this year’s Anisfield-Wolf winners, and mark your calendar for the awards ceremony (free and open to the public, though ticketed) on September 10th! It promises to be a tremendous and thought-provoking celebration.
Image: Jacob Lawrence, “During World War I There Was a Great Migration North by Southern African Americans.” Panel 1 of The Migration Series, 1940-41, The Phillips Collection, Washington DC, courtesy of npr.org.