Teaching Race and Racial Justice: Developing Students’ Cognitive and Affective Understanding

Keywords: teaching race, social justice education, racial justice, race and pedagogy


Effectively addressing both cognitive and affective dimensions of learning is one of the greatest obstacles to teaching race and racial justice in higher education. In this article, we first explore the need to integrate attention to cognitive and affective development, along with evidence-based strategies for doing so. We then provide a case study of an undergraduate sociology course on environmental justice in which the instructor intentionally adopted holistic pedagogical principles of teaching race. Analyzing student responses from a pre- and post- course survey, course assignments, and instructor observations of student participation, we find that both white students and students of color experienced significant growth in their cognitive and affective understanding of the complexities of race and work toward racial justice. However, results also show how challenging it can be to create the conditions for productive multiracial dialogues that produce extensive affective development, particularly interpersonal skills of racial reconciliation. Reflecting on the limitations of the case, we conclude that more holistic teaching approaches are necessary to develop both students’ cognitive and affective abilities to navigate race and work against racism, and we make suggestions for faculty development and administrative support.

Author Biographies

Joe Bandy, Vanderbilt University

Joe Bandy is Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching and affiliated faculty in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee (USA).

M. Brielle Harbin, United States Naval Academy

M. Brielle Harbin is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland (USA).

Amie Thurber, Portland State University

Amie Thurber is Assistant Professor of Social Work in the School of Social Work, Portland State University in Portland, Oregon (USA).


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How to Cite
Bandy, Joe, M. Brielle Harbin, and Amie Thurber. 2021. “Teaching Race and Racial Justice: Developing Students’ Cognitive and Affective Understanding”. Teaching & Learning Inquiry 9 (1), 117-37. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.9.1.10.