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'Words Matter': Marquette's English course reimagined to focus on diversity and racial justice

Posted at 6:59 AM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-12 12:15:57-05

MILWAUKEE — We know words matter, but not everyone may know the history of those words.

A new course all first-year students at Marquette University intertwines racial justice and language.

Freshman Madison Black says, “They introduced it with an anti-racism unit, and that's something I’ve always held very close to my heart. I’m very passionate about equality and social issues.”

The English course takes a forensic look at the creation of art like murals of George Floyd for specific words and phrases like ‘No Justice, No Peace,’ which can be perceived differently. Madison says, “We would take a sign like that and take what we knew was going on in the present time and what did that mean to us and what did that mean to the author.”

She also learned the importance of where you were born and which generation you were born into can impact viewpoints, “I was really proud of the English department. I feel like I’m not just coming to school to get a grade. I’m coming to school, and I’m learning something I can actually apply to the world.”

Professor Cedric Burrows re-imagined this course after an interview about race and language with TMJ4 News back in July. “When it was aired, I got a lot of feedback from people who was so surprised and interested, and I thought, oh, this could work for a unit.”

He is elated over his student’s reactions, “It gave me hope and optimism for changing society.”

All while learning what may be the most important word of all: empathy.

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