This semester, I am teaching the Lillian E. Smith Studies course for the first time. It is part of the LES Scholars’ program, and it is a course that focuses on Lillian Smith and social justice. The course looks historically at Smith and her work, but it also looks at the ways that her work and legacy resonate today. As such, I included works by Ibram X. Kendi and Jennine Capó Crucet to show how we still have work to do.

Course Description and Objectives:

Lillian E. Smith was a key figure on the forefront of the movement to end racial segregation in the U.S. A writer from the South, she used her work as a platform to advocate on behalf of social justice, diversity, and equality.  In this course invites we will explore the work of Lillian Smith and others considering how they help us to think about social justice in the U.S. and globally.

Lillian Smith begins The Journey (1954) with the following paragraph:

There is no going alone on a journey. Whether one explores strange lands or Main Street or one’s own back yard, always invisible traveling companions are close by: the giants and pygmies of memory, of belief, pulling you this way and that, not letting you see the world life-size but insisting that you measure it by their own height and weight.

She knew that individuals’ beliefs, fears, joys, and culture serve as “invisible traveling companions” as one goes through their life. Throughout her life, she examined the beliefs that she had learned growing up in the South. She pushed back against the mythological, compartmentalized beliefs that others inculcated within her. She, essentially, held a mirror up to herself, examining every aspect of her life, and determined that the systems that supported her and her family did not support everyone. That those systems needed to change. That in order for that change to occur she must come face to face with her own beliefs and fears.

For Smith, this examination led her to a life of social justice, speaking out against racism and segregation, speaking out against discrimination, speaking for the future of the children she counseled, speaking out for the future of America and the world. This course will explore Smith’s legacy and work. We will look at contemporary writers such as Ibram X. Kendi and Jennine Capó Crucet who each call out the ways that the systems we live within affect all of us and discuss ways to extricate ourselves and our society from these systems.  

In this course, you will engage with thinking critically about injustice in contemporary American society and the world. You will gain understanding of the intersections the lead to structural systems that privilege groups while oppressing others. You will encounter works that cause you to examine yourself and think about your position within these systems, and this examination will help us works towards developing empathy and understanding for others. Finally, you will think about the question, “What can we do?” This question will help you to think about your own position and how we can take the material we explored to create a more just and equitable society for all.  

Primary Texts:

  • A Lillian Smith Reader, edited by Margaret Rose Gladney and Lisa Hodgens, 2016.
  • Crucet, Jennine Capó. My Time Among the Whites, 2019.
  • Kendi, Ibram X. How to be an Antiracist, 2019.

Secondary Texts:

I will provide secondary readings as needed.

Organization:

The course will be organized around discussions and projects centered on social justice and the work of Lillian E. Smith. Classes will vary in what we do each day. Some days we will discuss readings. Some days we will work on projects. Since this is a directed study, the schedule will be semi-fluid.

Course Requirements and Explanation of Grading:

  • Attendance and Participation 10%
  • Reflection Journal 30%
  • Short Videos 30%
  • Lillian Smith Education Guide 30%

Attendance and In-Class Participation Although I believe that as adults you should have control over your own education, attendance is vital to your success in this course. Much of your learning and work will take place in class, and you will be involved in discussing the readings in class. To fully comprehend and hopefully appreciate the texts, you should come to class fully prepared. This means you should have read the homework and completed any assignments for class.

You will be held accountable to the following attendance policy: 4 or more unexcused absences will result in a grade of FA (failure due to absences). If you have an excused absence—e.g., university-sponsored trip, doctor’s visit—you must provide verification to the course instructor, in writing, no later than one week after the absence occurs. Tardiness is disruptive and disrespectful to your peers and to the teacher. Every two instances of tardiness (defined as 5 minutes late or more) will be counted as one absence.

Daily attendance is not sufficient to guarantee you a passing participation grade. Any activities taking place during class time contribute to your in-class participation grade. This includes note-taking during lectures, actively participating during discussion, and otherwise participating in class activities. There will be small group discussions during classes and other activities that will be part of this grade.

Reflection Journal—Every two weeks, you will find a news article that relates to a topic we have been discussing during the course of the semester. You will write a 500-750 journal entry talking about the ways that the article/event highlights the systems we discuss, and you will provide a brief discussion answering the question, “What can we do?”  

Short VideosEach week, I upload a brief (2:20) video to the Lillian E. Smith Center’s social media accounts. During the semester, you will produce five of these videos discussing aspects of Smith’s work or other texts we have read during the semester. Each video will consist of a script and the finished project. You can find an example on Twitter.   

Lillian Smith Education Guide—This will be an ongoing project for the Lillian E. Smith Center. You will help to formulate materials for an education guide that educators can use to teach about Smith, social justice, and history. This will be a fluid assignment, but you will produce text, videos, images, and other items that could be used for the guide.

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