UHD Scholars Explore ‘Critical Race Studies Across Disciplines’ in New Text
UHD Critical Race Studies Fellows Edit Book Addressing Relevance of Critical Race Theory
By Mike Emery
Issues of race have long challenged our nation. In recent years, however, the social and political chasms have only widened as a result of racial violence and divisive rhetoric.
At the University of Houston-Downtown, the faculty members (or Fellows) comprising the Center for Critical Race Studies (CCRS) address these divisions through scholarly initiatives and community activism—or “scholastivism.”
The Center’s latest effort comes in the form of a new text edited by four of its Fellows.
“Critical Race Studies Across Disciplines: Resisting Racism Through Scholactivism” was edited by CCRS Fellows and University faculty Dr. Vida Robertson, Director of UHD's Center for Critical Race Studies; Dr. Jonathan Chism, Assistant Professor of History; Dr. Stacie DeFreitas, Associate Professor of Psychology and Interim Associate Dean of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences and Dr. David Ryden, Professor of History.
Published by Lexington Books, “Critical Race Studies Across Disciplines” contains essays from both UHD faculty and scholars from across the nation addressing critical race theory’s evolution and increased relevance in our nation.
“One of the reasons this book is so important is because there is a staggering amount of misinformation and mischaracterizations of critical race theory,” Robertson said. “The intense racial polarization emerging from recent events has elevated the levels of angst in our world. This text helps bring clarity to the fundamental tenets of critical race theory and critical race studies.”
Chapters address critical race theory (CRT) from many perspectives (historical, cultural, psychological, spiritual, educational and more). This multi-disciplinary exploration of the topic helps expand its definition in the American consciousness. Initially, CRT was a movement addressing racial justice as it relates to the law. According to the book’s editors, however, the concept of critical race theory is one that has evolved to include so many facets of both academia and our daily lives.
“We hope that this book will help uplift ways that critical race theory has advanced beyond law schools and is a part of the curriculum of undergraduate institutions like UHD,” Chism said. ”I am honored to clarify what critical race theory is and defend its importance and expansion as we continue to oppose racism.”
Chism contributed introductions to the book’s section addressing education. He also collaborated with DeFreitas on the section addressing psychology and religion. Both Robertson and Ryden also contribute introductions respectively on the sections addressing literature and history.
Other UHD contributors to this book include Dr. Felicia Harris, Assistant Director of CCRS, and Dr. Nina Barbieri, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, who collaborated on the chapter on pedagogy in higher education. Additionally, Dr. Darius Benton, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, wrote a chapter on African American K-12 educators.
“UHD Fellows and faculty members remain firm defenders of critical race theory and continue to teach it in our classrooms and discuss it in our respective disciplinary circles,” Chism said. “I am honored to work with courageous scholars committed to advancing justice and equity through their scholarship.”
Robertson said the text can easily be adapted in a range of UHD courses taught by CCRS Fellows, as well as classes at other institutions throughout the nation.
“This book has the capacity to shape the critical consciousness of emerging race scholars and clearly instruct readers on the racial implications of classes addressing topics as wide ranging as film studies, family studies, psychology, literature and so many others. It is a very versatile text as the title indicates,” Robertson said. “This book is interdisciplinary and allows students and other scholars to realize how critical race theory affects so many aspects of our world.”
The book’s inspiration was 2019’s “Reflecting Black” symposium hosted at UHD. The CCRS event featured panels and presentations from both the University’s scholars and others from across the country, reflecting on the arrival of the first African slaves in America four centuries ago. Beyond the historical context of this event, conversations addressed contemporary issues of race and racism in the U.S. and provided UHD students with opportunities to gain knowledge from professors from other institutions in the U.S.
Both the 2019 symposium and this new book are indicative of the work undertaken by the Center for Critical Race Studies and its Fellows. Recent texts authored by CCRS Fellows include Chism’s “30 Day Journey with Martin Luther King Jr.” and “Saints in the Struggle: Church of God in Christ Activists in the Memphis Civil Rights Movement, 1954–1968.” Likewise, Dr. Creshema Murray, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, edited “Leadership Through the Lens,” and DeFreitas authored "African American Psychology: A Positive Perspective." Last year, CCRS Fellows Dr. Kristin Anderson and Dr. Daniel Peña earned national recognition for their respective works “Benign Bigotry” and “Bang!”
“One of the primary objectives of the Center for Critical Race Studies is to engage in the scholastic implementation of critical race theory as a framework for understanding and alleviating the oppression of marginalized groups,” Robertson said. “This new text and all of the center’s programs and projects support our mission to further promote understanding of the complexities of racialization in U.S. society.”
The creation of the text by faculty members demonstrates how the CCRS saw a void and worked to fill it. It is our mission to produce knowledge, empower communities, and transform lives. This is just one way that we have worked towards these goals. By highlighting how oppression and division impact Black people in the US across various contexts, we bring awareness and ultimately change for the better.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD)—the second-largest university in Houston—has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974.
As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates more than 15,000 students; boasts more than 60,000 alumni and offers 45 bachelor’s, nine master’s degree programs and 16 fully online programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service; Sciences & Technology; and University College).
For the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report ranks UHD among universities across the nation for Best Online Criminal Justice Programs (No. 27 and No. 15 for Veterans) and Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.
UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston and one of the lowest in Texas. U.S. News ranked the University among Top Performers on Social Mobility and a No. 1 ranking as the most diverse institution of higher education in the southern region of the U.S. The University is noted nationally as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Minority-Serving Institution and Military Friendly School. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.