Race and the American Story was created by two professors at the University of Missouri following the Mizzou student movements in 2015. It has grown into a course taught at three universities nationwide.
The “Race and the American Story” project was created by Stephanie Shonekan and Adam Seagrave as a response to racial tensions that were percolating both nationally and on the University of Missouri (Mizzou) campus where they both taught in Black Studies/Music and Political Science respectively.
In the aftermath of the Mizzou student movement of 2015, Shonekan created a mandatory 2 hour program for all incoming undergraduate students titled “Citizenship@Mizzou.”
Using music and brief narratives, Shonekan and a handful of colleagues and students invited new students to consider what the expectations were for living and learning on a campus where respect, responsibility, excellence and discovery were the values. Inherent in these programs was the idea that we needed some shared understanding of what equality meant for the diverse student body who came from small towns and cities, rural and urban areas, as well as from countries around the world.
After a year of running the Citizenship@Mizzou program, it became clear that students needed more time to deal with issues of race in America. Seagrave approached Shonekan with the idea to create a course that would serve as a next step for those students who wished to continue the conversation. So they created a 1 credit course with the goal of providing a platform for diving into primary documents that would help explain the evolution of the discourse on race (and racism) since the founding of the United States.
The list of readings comprised selections of speeches, essays, poetry, and other writings spanning time, from the declaration of independence to Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech. Three other colleagues – Justin Dyer, April Langley, and Stephen Graves – contributed to the syllabus. The first five sections of the course ran successfully at Mizzou in Spring 2018. Student evaluations were overwhelmingly positive with many saying that they would have liked more time in the course.
In the fall of 2018, Shonekan and Seagrave left Mizzou for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Arizona State University respectively. They decided to continue teaching the course in the spring of 2019 with the idea of bringing all the students together at a symposium in towards the end of the semester. The inaugural Race and the American Story Symposium took place in April 2019. Again, student evaluations of the experience of spending a whole day reflecting on the implications of the readings on contemporary society were outstanding.