Community unpacks diversity and calls for improvement
Photo courtesy of Jordan Laird / The Hofstra Chronicle
Jonathan Lightfoot, professor of teaching, learning and technology, says he has been called to the dean’s office on multiple occasions because a student accused him of talking about racism “too much” in class. This was a central topic of discussion at the panel held Monday, Nov.12, that discussed biased and prejudiced history education.
Dr. Lightfoot, who also serves as the director of Hofstra’s Center for “Race,” Culture and Social Justice, was one of four speakers at the panel titled “Columbus Discovered America and Other Lies We’re Taught in School.” This was hosted by Hofstra’s Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition (QTPOCC), the Center for “Race,” Culture and Social Justice and several other campus organizations.
“It’s disgusting,” Lightfoot said. “We’re this close to New York City and we endeavor to be a world-class institution of higher education. We don’t have an African studies program, we don’t have ongoing diversity training, we don’t address what these professors do in courses and classrooms and so forth.”
Rosario Navalta, a sophomore double major in religion and history, says that their classes can be extremely frustrating and that they are constantly reminded of their identity.
“I have to be a historian in the moment,” Navalta said. “I have to be that person, the scholar in the room on all things about brown oppression. And my professor consistently looks at me because everyone else around me is white as a fucking sheet.”
Professor Benita Sampedro, another panelist and associate director at the Center for “Race,” Culture and Social Justice, works to challenge racial biases. Sampedro said she came to Hofstra with a specialization in Spanish colonial studies, an area of academia fraught with biases. But for every new course she teaches, she makes a new syllabus from scratch. She also makes an effort to propose new courses like one she is currently teaching, “Farewell to Columbus: Rethinking Latin American History.”
Lightfoot said Hofstra struggles to retain faculty who are people of color (POC); he even considered leaving while on sabbatical, which he took “just to get away and take a breath.” He decided to stay and “continue to fight here.”
At the Center for “Race,” Culture and Social Justice, Lightfoot and Sampedro are working to establish regular, mandatory bias sensitivity trainings for faculty members.
“Our research suggests that some of our professors are out of touch and don’t have a clue,” Lightfoot said, which elicited laughter from the audience. He continued, “Some of them are outright racist.”
Lightfoot expressed hope that the administration had agreed to the Center’s proposal to hire a chief diversity officer. However, he expressed concern that the Center has not been told anything about the hiring process. He encouraged students to “show up” if the University brings in a candidate for the position to make a presentation.
“You all need to show up and challenge them on what they’re going to do to address issues of discrimination and bias on campus.”