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USF adapts coursework to current events, sparks discussion on importance among students, faculty 

In the fall, USF will offer new courses such as COVID-19 and the Black Diaspora and Prejudice, Stigma and Race Consciousness to broaden students’ perspectives on today’s racial issues as well as historical events that led to the current political climate in the U.S. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Inspired by recent events surrounding racial injustice around the country and the COVID-19 pandemic, the university is adding new courses to the student curriculum for the fall semester.

As a result of the rapidly evolving pandemic, the university will start offering a new course in the fall focused on COVID-19 and the Black Diaspora. The course, offered through the School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies (SIGS), will serve as an elective for Africana studies, political science and international studies majors, according to SIGS Associate Professor and Director Scott Solomon.

“As a department, particularly the Africana Studies faculty, we’ve been thinking about ways to address contemporary issues while also providing historical and political context,” Solomon said. 

“Obviously, the heavy toll on black people is a function of historical disparities in health care and the political and economic effects of structural racism. We have a number of courses that treat these historical legacies and the contemporary effects, but the pandemic provided an opportunity to view it through a different lens and to present to students cutting edge research on this evolving problem.”

Besides the COVID-19 and the Black Diaspora course, USF will be offering a new course called Prejudice, Stigma and Race Consciousness. The course will focus on the “emergence of the idea of race and traces the ways in which the concept of race has evolved over time,” according to CAS Dean Eric Eisenberg.

“We will understand how race and all social, political and emotional flashpoints touch our society,” Eisenberg said in an email to The Oracle. “Prejudice and racism affect individuals and groups, and one’s identity within a group can be stigmatizing. Moral, political and economic issues abound here, beginning with how we perceive and treat others, and how we are perceived by others.”

“Getting along with one another — understanding one another — depends upon being exposed to different perspectives and ways of thinking and living. The goal of this class is to promote each student’s awareness and understanding of race, racism, prejudice and stigma while identifying ways to illuminate and promote race consciousness.”

While the university already offers courses in the area of Human and Cultural Diversity as part of its general education requirement, media relations manager Althea Paul said the university will work toward bringing more awareness about the existing courses. 

“The University of South Florida remains deeply committed to ensuring a diverse and inclusive campus for all students and offers dozens of classes that include a deep examination of issues on racism,” Paul said in an email to The Oracle. 

Although the university is creating new courses focused on racial injustices and the COVID-19 pandemic, the USF community is asking for more.

Senior Nicholas Stewart and alumna Valentina Moreno created a petition on June 5 for the implementation of required racial/ethnic and gender/sexuality courses to fulfill either a capstone or writing intensive course, which also sparked discussions on the importance of such courses among faculty.

The two students suggested courses like Black Women in America, Crime and Justice in America, Immigration History and International Human Rights to possibly be made into required courses.

Within a day, the petition received more than 1,500 electronic signatures on As of June 17, the number of signatures surpassed the 3,000 mark.

With education as the driving force, the petition seeks change within the university curriculum as a way to inform students on current and historic events surrounding racial injustice as well as bringing awareness about social issues happening in the Tampa community, according to Stewart.

“Education is paramount in eliminating ignorance, especially when it comes to understanding the experience of people of color, the female experience and LGBTQ+ experience,” Stewart said. “When it comes to marginalized identity, I feel like when people are knowledgeable about it, they understand their identity and how it plays a role in a system of oppression.”

Due to changes in USF’s general education curriculum made in 2016 and implemented in fall 2018, SIGS Undergraduate Director Laurie Lahey said it might be more challenging for students to include an Africana Studies course in their coursework.

Prior to this change, students were required to take three credits in Human and Cultural Diversity in a Global Context. After the new general education requirements were implemented, students were required to take three credits in a new section called Human and Cultural Diversity, according to Lahey.

“Essentially, all of the core courses for the Africana Studies (AFA) major and minor (and some of our other courses) were included in the previous general education curriculum,” Lahey said in an email to The Oracle. “Now, only two of our courses are included. This makes it difficult for nonmajors to take AFA courses without incurring excess hours.”

Lahey said the two courses offered under the new general education curriculum are Introduction to the Black Experience and Racism in American Society.

“It is my hope that we will be able to have more courses approved for incorporation into the general education curriculum in the future — as our courses so clearly support the university’s goal to develop excellent global citizens,” Lahey said.

Some faculty members in the Department of Africana Studies believe courses focused on race are fundamental to improving the well-being of society.

Associate professor in the department of Africana Studies Cheryl Rodriguez said courses focused on racial/ethnic topics help students educate themselves on racism and develop a tolerance to people of all backgrounds.

“This needs to be a part of our education, not separate,” Rodriguez said. “It should be a part of our core education. We should know what every group in America has done to create what we call America.”

Besides expanding one’s knowledge and awareness about race, such courses can play an important role in students’ lives.

For Edward Kissi, an associate professor in the department of Africana Studies, the incorporation of such courses into the curriculum would open new avenues for students to understand the diversity of the human experience.  

“Africana Studies courses are wide-ranging in their subject matter and regions of focus. But, in general, they allow students to broaden their knowledge of the human experience beyond European history and Western civilization courses to also learn about the role that peoples of African descent have played in the making of our modern world,” Kissi said. 

“That scope of knowledge ensures that the African and black contributions to history, philosophy, science, art, culture, to mention but a few, are not marginalized, dismissed and overlooked.”

In regard to making Africana Studies mandatory in the student curriculum, Kissi said such courses would mold students to become functioning global citizens.

“If I were a student in America today, I would not be opposed to being asked to take courses that will broaden my mind, make me more conscientious as a person and inform me about the contributions that peoples of African descent and other racial and ethnic groups have made to our human civilization,” Kissi said. 

From his own experience of growing up in Jamaica and exploring his identity, Stewart said taking such courses expanded his perspectives as well as his knowledge on the issue.

“When I came to America and understood more of the struggle of the African American community and people of color here in America, it made me empathize even more. It made me understand my identity here in America,” Stewart said. “And as I selected my courses throughout my major, I made it intentional to take more courses that allowed me to broaden my horizons on different experiences.”

For Kissi, the implementation of Africana Studies into the student curriculum would also help students have a more in-depth understanding and a broader perspective of the ongoing national and global protests against racism and police brutality.

“From the study of Africa, it becomes clear that protests are legitimate human reactions that have always brought positive change to human societies,” Kissi said. “They expose and transform systemic structures of injustice and oppression. 

“It was protests against racist violence and police brutalities in Africa, organized by women, men and young people, that ended European colonial rule on the continent in the 1960s, and dismantled the racist apartheid system in South Africa in 1994.”

Seeing the impact on students’ lives, Rodriguez said courses focused on race and ethnic studies have the potential to create change within a broader community.

“We teach people how not to think in stereotypes,” Rodriguez said. “We teach people how to think about black history not just through such a narrow lens but through a wider lens and I think that really makes a difference in students’ lives. I’m amazed over the years of what students have said to me about taking my courses and how it has opened their eyes and changed their lives.”