Black History Month is in February, but at Loomis Chaffee the Kravis Center Black History Month Design Challenge extends beyond that artificial boundary.
During the month of February, the Kravis Center for Excellence in Teaching worked with faculty to design authentic assessments exploring and celebrating the contributions of Black Americans in various fields and disciplines.
“Though the faculty are designing during February, these assessments will be given and will run outside of February,” said Fiona Mills, the assistant director of the Kravis Center for diversity, equity & inclusion curriculum development. “That is important, so we do not encapsulate Black history or the contributions of Black Americans to U.S. culture and just narrow it to February.”
Adam Alsamadisi designed an assessment involving the College-Level Statistics course he teaches.
“From a computational standpoint, students are learning R [a programming language for data science] in CL Statistics, and this activity will serve as an opportunity to reacquaint/practice with the language after their winter breaks,” Adam said. “I'm glad to give the opportunity for students to learn about achievements in different fields, especially from Black folks whose historical contributions have been overlooked. I also think it's interesting for students to explore achievements relative to others at the time period, understanding cohorts of Black leaders in different time periods.”
Fiona said she was excited about Adam’s assessment because “we often think it is hard to incorporate diversity and equity in the math and science fields, and this is a terrific example of how to do that.”
The challenge encouraged faculty to consider Black Americans who are often overlooked. “Adam's project is exploring the multiplicity of Black Americans who have contributed in so many foundational ways to American history and American culture,” Fiona said.
She was equally excited about the assessment developed by Netta Hadari, a member of the performing arts faculty and the orchestra director. Netta’s project focuses on race in American classical music, “primarily … racism in relation to Black people today,” he explained. “I do not wish to minimize the ostracization of other minority groups and women in this field, but that is our focus.”
An assignment as part of the assessment is to read an article published in The New Yorker in 2020 headlined “Black Scholars Confront White Supremacy in Classical Music.” Netta, who already has incorporated this project into his curriculum, asks students to think about various questions when reading, ranging from “what are the short-term and long-term results of excluding entire races of people from classical music’s story in America?” to “how do we promote the underrepresented artists?” Students discuss the article and questions raised by Netta in breakout groups, and they also listen to music.
One such overlooked person discussed is William Dawson, a Black American classical composer.
“Netta did the lesson in the class of my Harlem Renaissance students for final day of the winter term, and it is phenomenal,” Fiona said. “He so deeply engaged my students across so many fronts.”