Outside the student life office in Clinton Hall, students can learn about the early life of Malcolm X and his views on injustices that are still poignant today. Travel farther down the halls to understand Ida B. Wells’ work in the anti-lynching campaign and how James Meredith helped secure fundamental human rights—such as sharing a classroom today with students of other races.
These projects scattered on the bulletin boards through Clinton mark the first signature assessment in history teacher Anna Raley’s Race in America course that examines the question “What is race?” through the lens of American history. To lay the groundwork for this signature assessment, the class first discussed what activism is, along with why it is vital to society. From there, each student had the opportunity to make the project their own by selecting an activist to research and a medium to present their work.
“For some historical figures, students had heard their names and wanted to know the full story,” Ms. Raley said. “There are things we never learn about, and this project gave students a chance to go beyond the known narrative.” They were able to learn more about some of the historical figures they had only scratched the surface of in previous classes or choose someone they had a cultural or personal connection to for their research topic.
As a fellow athlete, Royce Mulholland ’23 researched legendary baseball player Hank Aaron and highlighted his work as an activist and the adversities he endured during his career. For her project, Ari Albino ’23 created a website outlining the activism and achievements of U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Ari chose her for all she has accomplished at a young age and her ability to stay true to herself through her work.
“She leans into her culture rather than shutting it out,” Ari explained. “Coming from a Hispanic family in a predominantly white community, it can be difficult to appreciate what my culture has to offer, but seeing important figures like AOC do it, makes it easier to appreciate.”
Empowering students to make decisions in their learning endeavors is fundamental to the Blair experience. Teachers like Ms. Raley find students are more engaged in the subject matter and eager to participate when they have a voice in the direction it is taking. Faculty foster dialogue rather than relying heavily upon lecturing and students learn to feel comfortable sharing their insights and opinions.
“They’ve all been amazing,” Ms. Raley said. “They want to exchange ideas, and they’re willing to do the work.” Through current event discussions, Ms. Raley guides the class in connecting the lessons they are learning from the past with their everyday lives. As students see or read news stories on their own time, more of them are sharing these topics with her to spark conversation or ideas for the next class.
Signature programs at Blair, like J-term and Black History Month seminars, encourage students to fully comprehend the material they are learning and share it with the community. Projects like these reaffirm that mission and challenge students to share their newfound knowledge with others at Blair. The class will continue discussions of Race in America throughout the yearlong course, considering issues such as immigration, labor, crime, wealth, education, and ever-shifting legal identifications along racial and ethnic lines.