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Students get hands-on lesson about racial slurs

 

Recent class trip provides powerful learning opportunity

AACC Associate Professor Matt Yeazel knows a great learning opportunity when he sees one. That's why he took his Sports Studies class, Sports in America, to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to hear objections to the use of Native American images by U.S. sports teams. Little did he know it would be a transforming experience for everyone.

When student Andre Holland showed up decked out in Redskins gear, Yeazel wondered if that was a good idea.

"Are you sure you want to wear the Redskins cap to this deal?" Yeazel asked.

"That’s my team," Holland replied.

After hearing repeatedly that the team name is considered a powerful racial slur, Holland changed his outlook. He literally left with his hat in his hand and asked Yeazel, "what do I do with this stuff now?"

"This is why I teach," Yeazel said. “Students learned about the very real and enduring pain such a nickname can cause an entire group of people.”

Holland felt so moved by the discussion that he went up to the microphone when they were taking questions and gave a powerful, extemporaneous speech. He hadn't considered how offensive the name was before the event, but found himself apologizing profusely to a packed crowd, stating that as a black male he couldn’t support a nickname that he now understands to be racist. “His speech brought the house down,” Yeazel said.

"I'm going to be a fan of Washington – a Washington football team,” Holland said. “Not the ‘Washington Redskins.’''

Yeazel, AACC Psychology department chair, always has employed creative techniques to help his students apply their classroom learning to the real world. Last year, he hosted an event with John Carlos, the African-American Olympian captured on film in a black power salute with fellow athlete Tommie Smith during the 1968 medals ceremony.

While he could have decided to discuss the issue of team mascots by assigning readings and possibly following the debate through online research, Yeazel opted instead for a ringside seat.

“Life experience is something we can’t teach in the classroom. As educators, we do everything we can to give them the best lectures, discussions and activities to assist in their learning, but sometimes the best learning comes from experiencing something up close and personal,” Yeazel said. “It only becomes relevant to them when they understand the things we discuss in class are real and not just an idea.”