Understanding the human aspect of education


In the weeks following The University News piece “Student creates online petition over slavery assignment,” many members of our community have negatively responded toward the student who created the petition, quick to defend the controversial assignment. 

It is easy to write this off as a matter of unfortunate miscommunication, especially since amends have already been made and the assignment has been better defined. I believe that the bigger picture has much more meaning to our community. 

I urge the University of Dallas to recognize that there was a student who felt the need to gather 645 supporters in order to be heard. This article is a reminder to seek greater understanding in our community of the historic struggle of minorities, and especially Black Americans, in this country and lend a more sensitive ear. 

We live in a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has finally brought racial bias under a microscope and has provided us all with an opportunity to ask ourselves: Are we here to simply defend an assignment for the sake of reason without considering the human person who felt unsettled enough by this assignment to put herself on the line to challenge the status quo? 

Are we ready to care for and listen to people who are negatively affected by topics and assignments like these and seek to understand why they might feel this way?  

We all need to understand that the term “justification” paired with “slavery” will always wound members of our community. The BLM movement has emerged because of the many injustices, historic and current, suffered by black communities in the United States.

It is not easy to cultivate a safe environment for open discourse and get inside the mind of a historic oppressor when some forms of oppression still exist. 

Researching, learning and writing about why it was thought that one’s skin color deemed one to be worth less than another can be a painful process, even if this is done only to refute the former claim. True understanding comes from addressing the root of a problem, which the protested assignment arguably does. But the discomfort that inevitably falls upon minority students comes from crossing this line and needs to be acknowledged and understood. 

We need to make sure that as a community, our minority members feel safe enough to probe the most painful parts of their history and identity in the process of “understanding so the tragic and horrific sins of the past are never repeated.” 

Coming from Sri-Lanka, my schooling did not emphasize American history. Classes at UD were my first introduction to the horrors of slavery. 

We have to realize that when we are starting difficult dialogues in an environment where students come from different educational backgrounds and where we depend on the guidance of professors; we have to come full circle and tread with caution.

We ought to approach difficult dialogues with an acknowledgement of our many different backgrounds. We depend on our professors for guidance, and they must take this into consideration when approaching topics such as this.

In the article published by The University News, the student who created the petition noted that someone can pick up the thought “oh they might have been right” about slavery. This was met with negative FaceBook comments and many believed that this claim was unsubstantiated.  

In light of of diverse educational backgrounds, we have to admit that there is cause for concern. It really comes down to our need to take a more comprehensive approach to discourse about sensitive topics. 

It is important to make sure that difficult dialogue both acknowledges the pains of the subject matter and commits to the dialogue for the sake of genuine understanding.

Understanding without empathy is counterfeit knowledge. 

It does help to understand the mind of an oppressor but it’s also important that we come back to fully digesting its reprehensibility. I applaud UD for encouraging students to stand strong and be brave in their quest for wisdom and understanding. I urge our student community to make an effort to seek to understand those subjects we study holistically, valuing no knowledge more than the well being of members of our own community.


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