Teaching racial equity is new for many of us, especially if our course materials are focused on subject matter outside of the social sciences. This semester I was excited to offer an opportunity for students to engage in conversations about racial equity by speaking with Ms. Sulaiminah Burns, founder of Support Black Business 607, a social media campaign and organization which has rocketed to over 5000 members in less than a year.
In BIT 173 Website Creation with HTML/CSS, students are primarily focused on the creation of web pages. This involves learning the syntax of the scripting languages, thinking about design elements such as color, imagery, font and layout, and communicating effectively with both the written word and visual elements. So on first pass, there does not seem to be a place in this course for a side trip on social issues. Yet websites do not exist in a vacuum. They are an integral part of our social, political, institutional and commercial lives. As students develop professional skills to create, they must also understand the context of their creations.
Attending the presentation by Ms. Burns enabled students to learn the importance of supporting local black-owned businesses, empowering female-owned businesses, and the how-tos of successfully navigating the promise and perils of a strong social media presence. This presentation was sponsored by the Business Club and beautifully integrated the career focus of business and business information technology students with a deeper understanding of the consequences of racism and sexism on black and female-owned businesses.
As an assignment, students were asked to delve deeper by answering the following questions in a discussion forum:
• What are three things you learned from Ms. Burns about the importance of an Internet presence for small businesses, especially black and female-owned businesses?
• How might an awareness of black and female-owned businesses impact your career choices in Web development?
Not only did students learn valuable business marketing tips from the presentation, they also expressed a new awareness of the challenges faced by black and female-owned businesses, and a desire to support these businesses in their careers. Beyond the instrumental benefit of supporting local black and female-owned businesses such as quality of product, competitive pricing, environmental benefits, and community support, Ms. Burns’ presentation engaged students in an exploration of the moral decision to support these businesses.
This type of assignment supports our college-wide efforts to infuse discipline specific discussions of the consequences of racism into our courses. Going forward, the BIT department will formalize these types of assignments, adding to their depth and breadth, and supporting them with required courses in diversity and racism to give students the best possible understanding and awareness of these issues, but as a starting point, a simple assignment such as this one has great value. It opens the door to further exploration and conversation. It gives such conversations a home within the student’s own discipline. It demonstrates a willingness and a commitment to our shared values.
Submitted by: Sandy Wright