Transforming Education at Arcadia: The ABRI Curricular Infusion Pilot Program in Action

By Daniel DiPrinzio | February 9, 2022

In a November 2021 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Anti-Black Racism Initiatives (ABRI) in development at Arcadia University were put on center stage in “Race on Campus: One University’s Plan to Combat Anti-Black Racism” by Sarah Brown. The article highlighted “plans to diversify the student body, improve the representation of students of color in STEM majors, and teach students to have difficult conversations about racism and systemic discrimination.” And yet the vision outlined at the time by President Ajay Nair, Provost Jeff Rutenbeck, and Assistant Vice President of Access, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Angela McNeil was just a starting point in large-scale efforts–championed by students, faculty and staff, and administrators alike–to not only infuse the study of race and ethnicity into the curriculum at Arcadia but also to ensure that the culture of the University truly embodied the principles of justice and racial equity central to its lived values.

In support of this vital mission, the ABRI Curricular Infusion Committee went straight to work in the Fall 2021 semester to conceptualize, refine, and enhance a framework for infusing the study of anti-Black racism into courses University-wide. Given the ever-evolving nature of racism and discrimination, the goal of the Committee was to develop a living document faculty and staff at Arcadia could use to engage students in important conversations regarding underdiversification in their respective fields of study; the centering of whiteness often at the silencing or erasure of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) voices and experiences; the practices, policies, and traditions that contribute to systemic racism historically and in the modern world; and the nature of antiracist advocacy and action. The resulting document, the “Framework for ABRI Curricular Infusion and Pedagogy,” was thus born out of the recognition that challenging anti-Black racism and other forms of discrimination would inevitably fall into the hands of the emergent leaders under our tutelage and care, and thus, we wanted to ensure that they are prepared.

As Associate Director of the Center for Antiracist Scholarship, Advocacy, and Action (CASAA) and a key architect in the creation of the framework, I felt that if we could provide the Arcadia community a clear understanding of what might constitute ABRI curricular infusion while also providing tools/resources to support this work, we could make a difference in the educational experience at the institution. At the same time, we could empower our students to be agents of the “radical change” that President Nair encouraged when the vision for ABRI was first vocalized in 2020.

Having refined the framework through meetings with stakeholders across the University deeply engaged in both ABRI and Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) work, members of the ABRI Curricular Infusion Committee then presented the framework to the community at large at the Nov. 16, 2021 Open Faculty Senate Meeting and again at the Dec. 10, 2021 Race Matters Forum. Now the framework has become part of an important pilot program at Arcadia centered on integrating key aspects into a diverse range of courses such as Principles of Marketing, Neurobiology, Pathophysiology, Modern British Literature, and Writing Poetry and Fiction, to name just a few. Participants in the program are supported by a small stipend, a biweekly learning community where they can share their experiences and receive targeted guidance from one another and the Committee on any challenges they face, and opportunities for consistent reflection and assessment. Results of the pilot program will be shared with the community as part of the May workshops.

Dr. Matthew Heitzman, assistant professor of English, noted that he joined the pilot program for his Modern British Literature course this semester “because it is so focused on issues related to the establishment of the literary canon.” What he learns in the program “will give [him] space to talk about which voices have been historically silenced and to structure the course to elevate those traditionally marginalized voices” in part through an archival research assignment and oral presentation on Black Britons supported by Dr. Michelle Reale, professor and Access and Outreach Librarian. Dr. Megan Wright, professor of Biology, also joined the program in order to incorporate more diverse content into her Neurobiology and Pathophysiology courses through spotlights on scientists whose work and impact may be underrepresented in STEM. At the same time, through her participation, she aims “to promote a more engaging, inclusive, and equitable environment” and to support the students in her classes, the majority of whom are pursuing careers in the healthcare field, by continuing conversations about “inequity in how the medical community treats pain in black and other minority patients.”

Though early in the process, the ABRI Curricular Infusion Pilot Program is off to a solid start with insightful meetings among the Committee and the pilot participants over the past few weeks to collectively shape the goals of the program, discuss assessment tools/approaches, and envision how the learning community could best meet the needs of the participants. As the semester continues, participants will document their experiences, create spaces for student reflection, provide insight for how the framework can be further refined, and serve as models for curricular infusion from which all across the University can learn. Dr. Favian Guertin-Martin, associate professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice as well as Chair of the ABRI Curricular Infusion Committee, hopes that “this pilot program will provide faculty and staff with helpful ideas and innovative strategies to address anti-Black racism in their classroom.” More importantly, he hopes that this program “will provide opportunities for students to experience a transformative anti-racist experience.”

A special thanks is due to all of the members of the ABRI Curricular Infusion Committee for this tireless work and their commitment to transforming the educational experience here at Arcadia not just for the future but today. They are definitely deserving of their flowers. The members of the Committee include:

  • Kate Bonin (Modern Languages and Cultures)
  • Marc Brasof (Education)
  • Favian Guertin-Martin (Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice)
  • Matthew Heitzman (English)
  • Doreen Loury (Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice and Pan African Studies)
  • Alex Otieno (Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice)
  • Katherine Moore (Psychology)
  • Meg Nolan (Global Business)
  • Michelle Reale (Landman Library)
  • Graciela Slesaransky-Poe (Education)
  • Christopher Allen Varlack (English)