A course offered by LSA’s Residential College helps students think about recent protests by looking at ways that earlier generations have brought about change. Above: Students staged a "die-in" on the Diag in December 2014 to protest police killings and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Fifty years ago this month, the very first teach-in was conceived and conducted at the University of Michigan to protest the Vietnam War. More than 3,000 students spent a night in Mason Hall attending lectures, watching films, and participating in workshops designed by more than 200 faculty in order to present, according to former anthropology professor Marshall Sahlins (’52, M.A. ’52, L.H.D. Hon ‘01), “a clear, factual, and moral protest against the war.” The teach-in concept was loosely based on the Freedom Schools of the civil rights movement, which paired acts of protest with education. That same constructive spirit is behind Black Lives Matter: A Teach-In and Mini-Course offered this semester by LSA’s Residential College.

The idea for the course originated after a faculty meeting in the fall, recalls Professor Charles Bright, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of History and the interim director of the Residential College.

“Several of us mentioned we were hearing a lot of distressed conversation among students about the police killings in New York and Cleveland and Ferguson. The students were upset and troubled by the killings,” Bright explains, “and they were frustrated by the fact that they didn’t know what to do.”

Because the Residential College’s faculty is interdisciplinary, the faculty realized they had experts in a range of areas related to these issues.

“We realized we could join our existing strengths,” says Bright, “and create something that would meet a real need we perceived for our students.

“We wanted to provide them with some social and historical context,” he continues, “and we wanted to create a space where students could share their anxieties and concerns. We wanted to give them insight into what they could do productively to respond to these issues and events by looking at things people have done in the past.”

U-M's chapter of Students for a Democratic Society called for a student strike in 1965 to protest the Vietnam War as part of a series of student protests that included the very first teach-in. Photo by Bettmann/Corbis

The course began February 2 and will end April 8. Each week, a Residential College faculty member and a guest colleague collaborate to present subjects related to the protests, such as “Police Violence in Black America: Past and Present” or “Bad Jobs, Black Lives, and Young Workers.” After the presentation, the audience breaks into smaller discussion groups and reconvenes to report the conversations back to the larger group.

“I enrolled in the course because I wanted the opportunity to have an extended dialogue on race, discrimination, and social inequities with other students,” says LSA junior Gina Goldfaden. “The collaboration between a wide range of people from in and around the University made me feel as though everyone was welcome to learn, share, and discuss.”

LSA first-year student Darian Razdar agrees. “While this course and conversation benefit the campus community, we should also be charged with using the knowledge and tools we gain from it to change our local culture—and our nation, too.”

“I think the timeliness and relevance to the students is important,” Bright says. “It’s not like we have a program with things students can do to bring about social change. But we can teach about community organizations, for example, that have created peace zones to try to reduce violence in Detroit neighborhoods—which is something a student could become involved with through Semester in Detroit. We can discuss useful, effective, and constructive techniques and interventions.”

And, he concludes, the final session will create the opportunity to have another important conversation: Mini-course participants will talk with members of U-M’s administration about campus policies and programs to continue the dialogue and help create social change on campus and beyond.


Remaining Sessions in Black Lives Matter: A Teach-In and Mini-Course

  • From War Zones to Peace Zones: Policing Detroit Communities
    Monday, March 16 (6:30-8:30 p.m.), East Quad Room 1405
    A brief review of the history of racism in the Detroit police force and the reconfiguration of the department in the period when Coleman Young was mayor.
    Led by Stephen Ward and Charlie Bright (Faculty, Social Theory and Practice [STP] Program and Residential College [RC]) along with Ron Scott, a long-time Detroit activist and media strategist who co-hosts a weekly political affairs radio program and is a board member of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership.
  • Representation and Contemporary Politics
    Monday, March 23 (6:30-8:30 p.m.), East Quad Room 1405
    Photographic work in civil rights struggles from the United States to South Africa.
    Led by David Turnley (Faculty, STP Program and RC) and Jerria Martin, the subject of the upcoming documentary Hope Dreams.
  • Black Lives Matter in the United States and Brazil: A Comparative Look at the War on Terror, Police Militarization, Racial Profiling, and Public Responses to Police Killings of Black Men
    Monday, March 30 (6:30-8:30 p.m.), East Quad Room 1405
    A comparative perspective on the conditions that sparked the Black Lives Matter mobilization in the United States that also observes the parallels, divergences, and relationships between counter-terrorism and police militarization in Brazil and the United States.
    Led by Sueann Caulfield (Faculty, STP Program and RC) along with Danilo Cunha de Jesus dos Santos and Igor Cavalcante Medina, two undergraduate students from the State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (UniRio).
  • Moderated Panel with University of Michigan Officials
    Wednesday, April 8 (5:00-7:00 p.m.), Keene Theater, East Quad
    A forum for students to raise questions posed by the symposium and for campus leaders to express some of the policies or objectives designed to increase diversity at University of Michigan.
    Participants and moderator to be announced.