Framework for frankness

CitizenshipToo discusses core values at Mizzou, through the eyes of students.

Dec. 3, 2018
Contact: Erik Potter

Lael Keiser, professor and director of the Truman School of Public Affairs, often deals with controversial topics, such as discrimination, in her public-policy classes. But they can arise in many classes. “A lot of faculty are nervous about that,” Keiser says. They don’t feel confident tackling those issues without offending someone.

Since 2016, Mizzou has been preparing incoming students for what the environment at Mizzou will be like, especially regarding the exchange of ideas and opinions. In the 2017–18 academic year, the university began offering a program for faculty and staff as well.

Talking Drum member, Marcelese Cooper, reads a poem about growing up as a black man in America for faculty and staff at a CitizenshipToo event.

Talking Drum member, Marcelese Cooper, reads a poem about growing up as a black man in America for faculty and staff at a CitizenshipToo event.

Stephanie Shonekan, former professor of ethnomusicology and chair of the Department of Black Studies, co-developed the original version of the student program, Citizenship@Mizzou. In it, professors do most of the speaking, backed by the student band Talking Drum. The session is framed around Mizzou’s four core values of Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence.

For faculty and staff, however, Shonekan flipped the format. CitizenshipToo is a 90-minute session that discusses the same core values but through the eyes of students. In this incarnation, Talking Drum stars.

Doug Blakely, an African-American band member speaking on the value of respect, tells how, when he was interviewing for an undergraduate research position, the interviewer said, in a surprised tone, “you speak very well!” It was meant as a compliment, but what the student took away was that the professor had lower expectations for him in regard to speech — and possibly more.

Isaac Van Dyne, a white band member talking about discovery, recounts a time when he and a friend were invited to perform in the band at a black church. The students knew no one there, had never been to an African-American service before, but they said yes. The music was fast, the service was long and they struggled to keep up. Afterward, to their shock, the pastor said, “see you again next week?” They played the rest of the summer, improving each week and developing a love for a new style of music.

In surveys, 90 percent of attendees think CitizenshipToo is valuable, and an equal number say it helped them better embody Mizzou’s values.

“It reinforced my desire to keep bringing these ideas into the classroom,” says Keiser, who attended a spring 2018 session. She especially liked the tie-in to the university’s values. “This gives a framework for these discussions. I think it would have been great to have for a long time.”

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