Teaching Anthropological Concepts of Race in Higher Education

Insights and Challenges at a Predominately White Institution

Originally published in Teaching Anthropology

Racial, ethnic, and nationalistic discrimination are pressing concerns in today's uncertain political climate. Racialism is the belief that humans can be divided into distinct races that are biological fact and can determine many traits of individuals. This concept, while persistent, has been refuted by biological and social science, which indicates that the cultural conception of race is neither a biological reality nor determinant. The discipline of anthropology is well positioned to explain nuances in biological and cultural diversity, but employing the most effective strategies to teach these important, and sometimes controversial, concepts is crucial. Patterns and Efficacy in Teaching Concepts of Race in Anthropology (PETCRA) surveyed nearly 300 undergraduate students in introductory anthropology courses at a predominantly white institution in the United States. Students were given two surveys, before and after instruction, to determine their perception of race. The pre- and post-instructional surveys asked students simple conceptual questions about race, about their own experience of race, and demographic information; the post-survey included questions about the instruction of the subject area. While many students started with racialist perspectives, statistically significant numbers of students adopted a more anthropological view after instruction. Including videos with lecture resulted in statistically significant improvement in students' answers. Student racial identity development is discussed as an important component for understanding this complex topic, especially within predominantly white institutions. This research underscores the importance of evidence-based pedagogical choices in diversity instruction.

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