Literature and psychology classes start this fall, history planned for winter term

PHOTO BY ANGELA RADULESCU, COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.   - Toni Morrisons work will be included in a new African American Literature class offered this fall and winter for the first time by Mt. Hood Community College. Here Morrison is speaking to a group in New York City in 2008.

Mt. Hood Community College will offer two new classes this fall focusing on the Black experience and the college plans others.

One class, African American Literature, will be offered for the first time in the college's history this fall and winter.

The other class is one in human development. A college announcement said it will provide insight into the impact that institutional racism has on people's development.

MHCC is working on creating an African American history class for winter term.

"When the protests and Black Lives Matter movement started happening in Portland, the social sciences and humanities divisions at the college made it a goal to decolonize our curriculum," said Sara Rivara, dean of humanities and social science at MHCC in the announcement.

"Every student has the right to see themselves in the curriculum," she added.

The African American Literature course will include readings that cover a range of genres from folklore to fiction and nonfiction, poetry, song lyrics and more.

Literature covered will span centuries from slavery to contemporary writers and feature authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. It will also feature works by Audre Lorde, Randall Kenan and contemporary writers including as Nikki Finney, Roxanne Gay and Portland's own, Mitchell Jackson.

"The only way we can know about another person's life is to read about that life or hear those people speak about their lives," said Scarlett Saavedra, who will be teaching African American Literature this fall.

Nereyda Alcantar, a second-year MHCC student, plans on taking Saavedra's literature class.

"I'm excited to read other people's perspectives and read what they were feeling at the time because so much of what we learn in school is through a white person's perspective," she said in the college announcement.

"If you read something by a Black person, you are getting inside their head and learning how they were feeling. That is so important to learn about, especially right now," Alcantar added.

MHCC has offered human development courses for years, but this fall will mark the first time one will focus specifically on the psychological impacts of institutional racism.

The new class will look "at how we develop physically, socially, cognitively and emotionally across the lifespan. We will still cover Human Development overall, but I am going to tie in articles, videos and speakers that will highlight the impact of systemic racism on the different developmental stages," said Nicole Bragg-Scott, who will be teaching Psychology 237 this fall.

For example, during the portions of the class that focus on the pre-natal and birth stages of development, Bragg-Scott plans on bringing in a Black obstetrician to speak to the class about how Black mothers tend to have disproportionately higher death rates and infant mortality rates. Other portions of the class will focus on topics such as addressing academic achievement gaps in Black communities in Portland and across the country.

"That's important to learn about too — that Black people aren't just this damaged, hurt people. We have accomplished a lot in spite of everything," Bragg-Scott said.

Bragg-Scott and Saavedra designed the curriculum of their courses to be complementary, so students are encouraged to take them together, but both instructors said that they can be taken independently and still provide ample value and insight.

"When you learn and read about different perspectives and different views, it can't be anything other than helpful to your overall life experience," Bragg-Scott said.

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