Ethnicity’s complexities examined

Ryan K. Balot, Ph.D., associate professor of classics in Arts & Sciences, has been awarded a $95,275 grant from the Teagle Foundation for a working group on “Re-thinking the Pedagogy of Ethnicity.”

This group, which will include faculty members from WUSTL, Ohio Wesleyan University and Luther, Millsaps and Union colleges, will work to clarify an understanding of ethnicity, to study the difficulties of discussing ethnicity in the classroom and to improve the pedagogy of ethnicity in the curricula of diverse institutions.

Ryan Balot
Ryan Balot

The ultimate goals are to help institutions fulfill the civic mission of educating students in citizenship and to help students grapple with the complexities of ethnicity.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity,” Balot said. “I’m looking forward to working with colleagues from these other institutions to gain a better understanding of ethnicity.

“Ethnicity is a subject of central importance for higher education because, among other goals, universities and colleges have a civic mission — namely, to educate students in the virtues of democratic citizenship.”

The group plans to debate topics such as:

• What is ethnicity?

• How is it related to religion, nationality, group solidarity, genealogy and territory?

• How can robust concepts of ethnicity be accommodated within the pluralism of democratic political culture?

• Does ethnic humor reflect social tension or contribute to forming group identity?

• What is the relationship between ethnicity and race?

With specific, practical problems in mind, Balot hopes the group can develop strategies for alleviating tensions over ethnicity and directing emotions in ways that contribute to reasonable dialogue.

The group will work through real and imagined classroom situations geared toward interpreting problematic text passages, events or social issues involving ethnicity. It will also discuss the cultural difficulties that hinder cross-ethnic dialogue and attempt to develop ways of lecturing on ethnicity in self-conscious, publicly sanctioned ways.

The group will also discuss how to implement curricular and extracurricular changes to give students experience in discussing ethnicity with each other. Colleges and universities must work to toward broader ethnic literacy and understanding if they are to fulfill their civic mission, Balot said.

The final task of the group will be to develop strategies for bringing ethnicity to the forefront as a topic of academic and political attention on campus. This could occur through course requirements, speaker series, group discussions, awareness days, residential life events or writing or speaking contests.