Course Innovation Grant: Recentering Race in the Classroom

CSREA’s Course Innovation Grant is designed to support Brown faculty who are eager to develop, revamp, or refocus existing courses to more centrally include topics of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity.

These funds are used in many ways–from one-time investments that improve individual courses, to larger initiatives that facilitate collaborative innovation between departments and institutions. Since the grant’s inception, awardees have built custom experiential learning platforms, hired and trained student researchers, and acquired other key learning supplies as part of ambitious course developments.

Read on to learn about our recent grantees and how they have transformed their courses.

Fall 2022
John Friedman, Using Big Data to Solve Social and Economic Problems
Department of Economics

Professor of Economics John Friedman was awarded a Course Innovation Grant for his course, Using Big Data to Solve Social and Economic Problems. His goal was to introduce economics as a powerful tool for understanding and modeling systemic injustice beyond traditional studies of markets and inflation. “Many students didn’t have any sense at the start that quantitative methods and data can be applied to better understand humanistic social questions,” said Professor Friedman of the observations that led him to apply.

Yet, these quantitative methods require complex math–something not all students are prepared to tackle in an introductory course. Toward that end, Friedman and Course Engineer Moritz Poll worked to create an online portal to walk students through the intricate computations behind population-level inequity studies. Poll, who is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Economics describes their efforts. “We wanted to make sure that all students would feel at home. We paid special attention to students who might have their minds set on the big social questions of our time, but are intimidated by the prospect of an Economics course heavy in math, statistics, and coding.”

Throughout the course, students were challenged to choose data sets that resonated with them and dive deeply into details like property values and income. Professor Friedman notes that it was “important to let the students really experience going through data on their own, to really discover and analyze patterns in data themselves.”

After its revamping, the class quickly became one of the most popular departmental offerings and was dramatically increased in size for the following semester.

Fall 2021
Seth Rockman, A Textile History of Atlantic Slavery
Departent of History

Associate Professor of History Seth Rockman was awarded a Course Innovation Grant in Fall 2021 for his DIAP-designated First-Year seminar, A Textile History of Atlantic Slavery. The course asked–what was the role of textile and clothing in self-liberation struggles in the pre-war South? How can the documentary evidence we uncover redress archival silences in Black Atlantic histories? In tackling these big questions alongside his students, Professor Rockman introduced them to the history of dress and textiles as a distinct scholarly subfield.

Course-funded graduate research assistants developed a repository of primary sources and designed immersive assignments for students, including hands-on work with curators, conservators, and museum professionals working directly with historical textiles. These additions provided students with opportunities to engage directly with local histories and speculate around archival lacunae, culminating in a project that involved sewing and dyeing their own projects.

Spring 2021
Susan Smuylan, Race and Ethnicity in Advertising
Department of American Studies

Professor of American Studies Susan Smulyan used Course Innovation funds to refocus her popular lecture course in response to a newly released archive from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The archive, entitled “Race and Ethnicity in Advertising,” is a collection of over 1,200 digitized images from the late 1800’s to today that aims to place racial representation at the heart of understandings of consumption and histories of American capitalism. 

Course texts focused on identifying the roots of contemporary injustices embedded within
marketing objects and advertisements toward a strong understanding of how the tenets of structural racism are built and perpetuated through commercial languages. Grant funds facilitated the hiring of a graduate research assistant to comb the archive and develop a series of presentations and assignments to guide students.

To learn more about the Course Innovation Grant, visit this page.