UW Today

April 28, 2017

Class on Black Lives Matter examines ideas behind the slogan

News and Information

At first, La TaSha Levy was worried her class on Black Lives Matter would be almost out of date. After all, who hasn’t seen the signs, heard the slogans, watched — or perhaps even participated in — marches to protest racism and violence against African Americans?

But that was just it, realized Levy, a new assistant professor of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington. What most people know of Black Lives Matter is just a slogan.

“Black Lives Matter has almost become a household name,” said Levy, whose class #BlackLivesMatter in Media and Popular Culture is offered this spring. “But it’s not clear the extent to which people are plugged into the analysis of race, the disparities in housing, employment and police violence — all the intellectual arguments that are part of it.”

The course, along with UW Health Services professor Clarence Spigner‘s course, “Black Lives and Police Violence: Racism and the Public Health,”  are among only a few in the country; The Evergreen State College is the only other public institution in Washington to offer a similar class. In 2015, Frank Leon Roberts offered what has come to be a well-known Black Lives Matter class at New York University, and many colleges and universities have presented guest speakers, symposiums, and teach-ins. But few have embarked upon a for-credit class.

At the UW, 36 students signed up for Levy’s twice-weekly sessions that examine readings and videos about issues such as the history of black liberation efforts, the role of LGBTQ people in Black Lives Matter, criminalization of youth of color, the effectiveness of protests and what it means to be a movement ally. As a final project, students must create an educational resource, whether for children, teens or adults, that, according to the syllabus, raises awareness, deepens understanding or counters misinformation.

The class began the quarter by identifying and exploring the backgrounds of Black Lives Matter founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi — names with which most students were unfamiliar. As the discussion expanded, students readily shared opinions and insights from observations and their own experiences.

Balancing personal anecdotes and opinions with intellectual analysis is important, Levy said.

“It’s a politically charged topic, and some students might be shy because they don’t want to say the wrong thing,” she said. “But this isn’t about advocacy for Black Lives Matter. I don’t want to shut down opposing viewpoints or critical viewpoints. I want them to think about challenges and obstacles and shortcomings, and how we learn from those.”

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For more information, contact Levy at levyl@uw.edu.

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