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Professor Tackles Controversial Topics in Classroom

Last updated on Oct 20, 2017

By Quedus Babalola
Staff Writer

Professor of Education Shaireen Rasheed published an article titled, “Charlottesville and the Myth of the Neutral Classroom: Racial Literacy in the Age of Trump,” in The Huffington Post on August 18.

In the article, Rasheed expressed her concern for the future of America after the white supremacist march and violence that erupted in Charlottesville, VA in August. Rasheed was interviewed by The New York Times about whether she would be contributing the content of her article into her curriculum this year.

Photo Courtesy of Shaireen Rasheed

Rasheed, who has been at LIU Post for 17 years, teaches the social, philosophical and historical foundations of education, and multiculturalism. Rasheed and Wendy Ryden, a professor in the English department, linked their English and education courses together to teach students how to create pedagogies of resistance this semester, but have been collaborating for a few years now. The course is offered each semester to undergraduate students.

“We created a learning community a few years back that was very exciting and have been looking for an opportunity to do so again, in which students from different classes benefit from interacting with each other and learning about each other’s’ viewpoints,” Ryden said. “In my World Literature class that is paired with Professor Rasheed’s education class, we learn about the literature of european [culture] and other cultures in order to see differences and overlaps in perspectives,” she continued.

Many college students are fearful after the Charlottesville protests and counter protests that led to the vehicular manslaughter of Heather Heyer. “I heard what happened and honestly I’ve never felt so uncomfortable and scared,” Inal Williams, a senior forensic psychology major, said. “My sister goes to the school that [the protesters] walked on and I cried for hours and hours hoping that she wasn’t hurt or touched,” she said.

In her course, Rasheed aids students in realizing what their roles in society are when it comes to speaking out for those who don’t have a voice and cannot take action for themselves. Rasheed encourages other professors to bring these conversations into the classroom. In her own classroom, Rasheed asked students which roles they played in society. Understanding this role, she said, is important to the advancement and progression of society. “As teachers we have to use the purpose of education to make and shape the best students inside and outside of the classroom,” Rasheed said. “Privilege and race are very important to discuss; we can’t just ignore these topics like they aren’t relevant in today’s society.”

Through bringing the conversation of Charlottesville, and also the Black Lives Matter movement to the classroom, Rasheed has kept students informed and engaged. “I teach masters classes, doctorate classes and also undergraduate students, but the freshmen are my favorite because most of them don’t have the tools to be informed and I’m able to help students who actually want to learn,” Rasheed said. She advised students to keep their hearts and minds open.

Michael Palumbo, a former student in Rasheed’s EDI 14 class, believed that she was a model professor. “[She] always showed me the right path. Even if I was slipping in my ideas, she supported me all the way,” Palumbo said.

“[The EDI 14 course] opened my mind up to a lot of new ideas and conflicts that people have to face that I never had to,” Taylor Laporta, a sophomore childhood education major, said. “[I] realized that the education system has been oppressing students. Her class gave me so much con dence in myself,” she continued.

Not every student was accepting of the curriculum at first. Rasheed had a student who was very resistant when they first met. “A student of mine was particularly resistant to discussing LGBTQIA issues in the classroom. So when a group of my students as part of their final project staged a play based on Mathew Shepard’s story called the “The Laramie Project,” I requested that he be part of it. After the semester was over he emailed me appreciative of the opportunity to be part of staging the “Laramie Project,” as it made him confront his own biases and deconstruct them in a way he that hadn’t experienced before. Making him aware of the importance of being an ally and creating alliances across different groups.”

“Unfortunately, classrooms continue to reinforce a multicultural framework of tolerance, where teachers often are hesitant to condemn issues of racism, sexism and xenophobia,” Rasheed wrote in her Huffington Post article. Rasheed explained that creating a common ground or space for students to be educated and informed has been her secret ingredient when covering controversial topics.

“One of the things she communicated to our class is that it’s important to create environments that accept all different types of people,” Nicole Guillet, a senior English education major, said. “The classroom is supposed to be a safe space, so as teachers, you have to be advocates for the students who might not have one,” she continued.

Every semester before dropping her daughter off at college, Rasheed reminds her to “be authentic.” She advises her Post students to do the same, sharing the mindset she learned from her mentor, Nel Noddings, while studying at Columbia University.

Noddings will give a lecture in the Tilles Center on Thursday, Nov. 9, on “Teaching Controversial Issues.” The College of Education, Information and Technology will host the two- hour event, which begins at 12 p.m. Students and faculty are welcome to attend the free event but must RSVP with Anastasia Karathanasis by email at

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