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HBCU professors discuss effect of Critical Race Theory on classroom conversations

Professors at Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College say conversations about race add context to complex ideas.

ATLANTA — For decades, Atlanta's historically Black colleges and universities have been at the forefront of standing against racism and promoting progress. For students and faculty, this included conversation about society through the lens of race. 

Now, professors at institutions in the Atlanta University Center Consortium say current conversations around Critical Race Theory are prompting deeper conversations with students. 

"In an HBCU in general, and certainly in a place like Clark Atlanta University and other schools in the U.S., this is really not a new discussion for us," Dr. Kurt Young told 11Alive. 

Young is the chair of the department of political science at Clark Atlanta University. He said he does not explicitly teach Critical Race Theory. Instead, he said he pushes his students to understand the concepts and materials by examining their own experiences. 

Young added he often encounters students who chose to attend a HBCUs in order to gain a better understanding of their own history. 

As conversations about race in the kindergarten through 12-grade classrooms become less prominent, Young said his work at CAU becomes more needed. 

"It's one thing to teach a student of the development of the U.S. Constitution. All right. It's another thing, though, to require that those students understand the uneven application of the Constitution to different groups, and this need not only be about African-Americans," he explained. "In higher education and certainly Clark Atlanta University, we have a responsibility to teach society as it presents itself to us."

The conversations are also happening on other HBCU campuses. At Spelman College, every student is required to take the African Diaspora and the World course, colloquially known by its initials ADW. 

The school's website says the class, which takes space over two semesters, "is centered on the experiences of African descended people". The website also says the course "speaks to students' experiences as Black women."

Dr. Adrienne Jones, an associate professor of Political Science at Morehouse College, told 11Alive she also engages her students in the course materials by grounding the readings in their experiences.

 "By virtue of being on a Black institution, my male students and occasional female students are always interested in these intersections," she said.

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