"They learn all about dealing with people from different cultures..."
Sixteen students recently got to see the United Kingdom through a different lens.
As participants in Dr. Arthur Lizie’s travel course, “Race and Popular Culture in England,” the students spent a week in London in early March visiting sites and organizations associated with the pursuit of racial justice.
The idea for the course arose in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police, after which citizens of both the United States and United Kingdom took to the streets to protest. “Around that time, a lot of similar issues began to coalesce in both countries,” said Dr. Lizie, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies.
Not long after, IDEA grants were offered by the federal government seeking to fund educational initiatives focused on racial justice. The study course to London received one of the grants.
Dr. Lizie said London was rich in both history and in committed people advocating for justice and equity. “I tried to mix things up between going to some expected tourist sites and examining them through a racial justice lens, and meetings with representatives of different communities to see how things are playing out on the ground,” he said.
The students enjoyed a Black cultural tour of London, as well as a tour of Chinatown and the Brick Lane section of the city (home to a large Bangla population). They also visited Trust for London, an organization established in the 1890s to help London’s poor, but now is a granting organization that promotes racial justice. “Hearing about their work was fascinating,” Dr. Lizie said.
Another highlight was a visit to the Racial Disparity Unit, a government organization that promotes inclusiveness and equity. “We met with a lot of people who are doing this important work right now,” he said.
While the class was in London, the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8. Members had the chance to attend a panel discussion about Black women in broadcasting held at the British Film Institute. “That was both enlightening and uplifting,” Dr. Lizie said.
As part of the course, students kept a journal about each day’s activities and reflected on how the activities affected them. A final paper is also due, which rounds out their grades.
Dr. Lizie sees great benefit in this type of hands-on distance learning and knows his students saw a different side of London than usual. “They learn all about dealing with people from different cultures, and I think one thing a course like this shows is that Britain is not a monolithic culture,” he said. “I think we stereotypically think of it as the monarchy and different aspects of upper society. But it’s a very diverse society with many different cultures, cultures that we don’t necessarily have in Southeastern Massachusetts.”