School’s In: Teaching About Racism

This post was originally featured on Stanford GSE’s “School’s In” webpage.

Stanford sociologist Matthew Snipp discusses ways to educate students about race and ethnic relations in America.

“Race is one of the fundamental organizing principles of the society we live in,” says Matthew Snipp, a sociology professor and vice provost for faculty development, diversity and engagement at Stanford. Universities have to teach about it, especially in a time of renewed activism. But how?

On this episode of School’s In, Snipp joins GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to discuss the course on race and ethnic relations he’s taught for almost 20 years, as well as a fellowship he leads at Stanford for scholars focused on race.

As a child, Snipp, who is Native American, learned that some white people wanted to deny rights to Black people because “that’s just the way it was,” he said. Snipp found sociology and ethnic studies “exceptionally liberating,” because there, “that wasn’t just the way it was, and it didn’t have to be that way.”

During the Obama administration, Snipp had to persuade students “that we weren’t in a post-racial society,” he said. Now his focus is: “How do we think about racial justice, and what are the best ways to bring it about?”  

Though Snipp sets ground rules in his classes to keep temperatures cool, the material can be upsetting. The media unit examines “really, really nasty, vile, racist material that just about anybody can find if you just scratch the surface of the internet just a little bit.” But if you don’t confront those realities, “it’s like trying to teach medicine without ever having to touch a sick person.”

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See all episodes here.

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