Why doesn’t UMD’s government and politics department care about teaching race?

Tydings Hall houses the University of Maryland's College of Behavioral & Social Sciences. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

Out of everything that happened in 2020, perhaps most important was the Black Lives Matter movement. Through potentially the largest social movement of all time, the country was finally forced to talk about race — including here at the University of Maryland. Then university President-designate Darryll Pines sent an email describing his own horror over the killing of George Floyd. Black Terps Matter, a student activism group, rose from the chaos and demanded accountability from this university’s administration. And a number of departments within the university released statements of support following the killing — including my very own government and politics department. 

The department released a statement condemning racism and calling for increased representation for marginalized populations. It also included this line: “The events that have transpired in the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis, including the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are reminders of the significant political, social, and economic injustices that many of us are working diligently as political scientists to help solve.”

Now, after a statement like this, you’d expect a department committed to education to be pushing for dramatic change in the way the school teaches racial issues, social movements and their impact on the American political system. After all, their undergraduate mission is “to provide students with the substantive knowledge, the analytical skills, and the professional experience necessary to go into the world and address organizational and societal problems at the local, national, and international levels.” However, the course offerings for spring 2021 indicate the department’s statement was an empty show of support, devoid of care for real change. 

Scrolling through the list of 44 available government and politics undergraduate courses for next semester, you’ll only find two classes highlighting the struggle of Black people: “Topical Investigations; Race Relations in the US and France” and “Seminar in American Politics; Minority Politics.” This is actually a decline from three relevant courses in the fall, which included a class on social movements. While the fall schedule was set before recent events unfolded, the spring schedule of classes was released on Sept. 17 — 115 days after the death of George Floyd — yet no change in course availability.

I understand many courses operate only in the fall or spring, and that it takes a while to put together a syllabus for a class. And I understand there are many bureaucratic hurdles to jump before being able to successfully implement a new class. However, with an issue this important, these are just excuses. Even without a social movement, there are only two government and politics classes next semester that could potentially talk about the Black experience in politics. This is unacceptable. 

When the department only offers 47 seats in classes on racial politics for 864 government and politics students, they’re showing they don’t actually care about their students getting a diverse education. Not surprising, considering this university’s postsecondary instructors are only 6.8 percent Black or African American.

In the midst of an incredible social movement, it is the responsibility of the government and politics department to ensure important topics are taught if they legitimately want students to address societal problems.  

We are in a unique period in history where students want to learn more and try to make a difference in their communities. How are students supposed to address systemic racism if they’re unable to take any classes about it in their government major? It’s imperative the department expand its course offerings to include more classes on racial politics, social movements and the Black struggle. Until then, it seems clear the government and politics department cares more about teaching the status quo than making a positive change in the world.

Jake Foley-Keene is a junior government and politics major. He can be reached at jakefoleykeene@gmail.com. 

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