Jan Term Course Centers On and Celebrates Black Lives at SMC

As a Student Engagement and Academic Success Coach and adjunct faculty member, Calvin Monroe works hard to make Saint Mary’s a more welcoming place for students. This January, Monroe focused on how Saint Mary’s can better serve Black students, staff, and faculty in the Jan Term course: Black Lives Matter: Approaching an Emic View of Communities of African Descent. 

“The BLM class centers and celebrates Black lives through a critical race lens,” explained Monroe. “Through four sections: (1) Living in the World as Black, (2) Within the Black Community, (3) Activism, and (4) Education and the Academy, SMC students use their Critical Race Theory book to gain insight, interrogate, and brianstorm practical solutions to combat structural racism.” 

Students in Monroe’s class were also active outside of the classroom. “In addition to a robust reading list, I wanted to make sure that students engage in activism. BLM students contribute to Black community organizations through the creation of a community resource bank, and campus engagement by working with Black campus clubs and organizations like the Black Student Union (BSU), 44 Days: Honoring Black History Month, as well as collaborating with Carnetta Porter, PsyD, in the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) department, who focuses on Black student mental health initiatives.”  

As a staff member at Saint Mary’s since 2017 and a doctoral student in the Kalmanovitz School of Education’s Educational Leadership Program, teaching this BLM course is personal to Monroe. “This class was created by previously employed Black SMC employees and allies. I was inspired by their efforts and commitment to Black SMC students by offering this course. I was happy to utilize my BA and MA degrees in African American Studies to demonstrate my dedication and commitment to Black SMC students,” shared Monroe.

“I am always inspired by Black SMC students. Being a Black student at SMC brings unique obstacles, and to witness the resilience and leadership of Black students, I always want to advocate for their well-being. This class is a space that focuses on them and their experiences, providing mental and social relief, which positively contributes to their overall mental health,” Monroe added. 

What made this class unique, shared Monroe, is its community-driven aspect. “I wanted to make this class different by allowing opportunities for students to contribute directly to Black communities and causes. Students have the freedom to select their own readings and assignments that are directly related to their lives and future professions. Since students have a personal connection to the content, it allows for colorful, passionate, in-depth conversations that integrate different time periods, theories, practices, and approaches regarding Black life.” 

“While teaching this class in previous semesters, we took a community approach by inviting numerous Black faculty and staff to share their experiences and offer insight into career, activism, and life fulfillment. This sharing created new networks for students that can lead to mentorship and letters of recommendation.”

Monroe shared how he hopes this Jan Term course will have an impact on Black Saint Mary’s students and build allyship among the wider Saint Mary’s community: “First, I want Black SMC students who take the class to feel heard, understood, and seen. This is because Black students often experience SMC classes where they may be the only Black student, which can be taxing on them.”

“I want all students to walk away with more knowledge about some of the realities of being Black on the SMC campus and learn genuine, practical ways to become better active allies. Equally important is the momentum that we build to engage in direct activism, helping causes that assist Black lives on the campus and community.”

Monroe will be presenting his Fac Chat “Hire More Black Faculty Now! The Unique Benefits that Black Faculty Bring to Black Students” this Wed., Mar. 9 at 1 p.m. on Zoom. He will share his doctoral research around the benefits of Black faculty for the success and retention of Black students. For more information, click here.