This was the thinking behind “Pop-Up Teach-In,” five micro-lectures, or flash talks, addressing topics such as institutional racism, white privilege and police brutality as well as the physical dangers people of color face daily.
Students and faculty met to discuss issues in Ta Nehisi Coates’ book, “Between the World and Me,” Wednesday in the Indiana Memorial Union’s Oakley Room.
An author, journalist and educator, Coates’ writing addresses some of the most pressing social, cultural and political issues in American society.
Vivian Halloran, associate professor of English and American studies, and Rasul Mowatt, associate professor of recreation, park and tourism studies, coordinated the event.
Aside from a reading group dedicated to discussion of “Between the World and Me,” Halloran said she was unable to find any organized events that focused on getting people excited for Coates’ visit to IU, which will take place at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23.
“It’s really a way for undergraduate students to teach each other,” Halloran said. “This is all about undergraduates feeling like they are part of the group of people who are welcoming Coates when he arrives.”
Presented by the American studies department and co-sponsored by the Hutton Honors College, Wells Scholars Program and College Arts and Humanities Institute, Halloran said that “Pop-Up Teach-In” was the first in a series of events designed to generate buzz for Coates’ visit.
“The basic idea here was that I wanted to have a format that was not going to be faculty or students lecturing at the audience, but one that was rather more engaging and impromptu,” Halloran said.
Halloran said the event, which provided time for a question-and-answer session, was designed to encourage students to participate.
“As IU has made increasing efforts to promote and value diversity on this campus, I think that we also need to follow through and talk about the things that our students of color worry about,” Halloran said.
Terri Francis, associate professor of communication and culture, helped raise student awareness of the event.
“It’s easy to know about breaking news, but to figure out where this is all coming from we need to read, view and listen widely and do it in community, whether face-to-face or online,” Francis said. “And Coates is great about explaining his process, how he borrows from literature, sociology and history and translates it or synthesizes it.”
Though Coates is a well-known, talented figure, Francis said it is important to keep in mind that he is a part of a larger conversation about what it means to be a person.
“Coates’ visit connects to a wider world,” Francis said.
Because race is such a fundamental social issue, Mowatt said discussions such as this are important in a general context, as well as in relation to IU specifically.
Although there are scholars and faculty at IU that are dedicated to studying and teaching race, Mowatt said their presence on campus is not as strong as it should be.
Mowatt said it is crucial for students to be a visible, leading part of discussions surrounding these issues.
“I think what’s important, along with any other social issue, is that people need to take it upon themselves to be as passionate about issues that don’t impact them as much as issues that do impact them,” Mowatt said.
Although he said he acknowledges the daunting nature of the issue at hand, Mowatt said students should not be discouraged from joining the fight.
“There’s no perfect action,” Mowatt said. “If you’re working on it and you commit yourself to doing this for your lifetime, you’re going to get to the very important issues that matter.”