Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Alicia Monroe Leads Rowan’s First Black Lives Matter Course

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In her time at Rowan, Dr. Alicia Monroe has taken on somewhat of a multifaceted role as a campus leader. In addition to serving as assistant director of Rowan’s Office of Career Advancement, Dr. Monroe is also the creator of the first and only course at Rowan that focuses on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. 

The idea for this course began when Dr. Monroe was asked to design a course for an educational pipeline program to serve rising Rowan University Freshmen from Essex county.

“I had two weeks to develop a credit-bearing course,” Dr. Monroe recalled. “As the country was rocked by the traumatic images of rupture, resilience and resistance, intense fear and frustration from historically marginalized students were at an all-time high.”

It was in 2016 that Dr. Monroe really noticed that questions from Rowan students were beginning to surface around collective action, justice, human rights, allyship and advocacy.

Dr. Monroe thought that the best way for her to harness that energy would be to make a course that she felt would inform, educate and provide a safe space for student thoughts, voice and critical dialogue on these topics.

“Accordingly, creating a course that spoke to the purpose, motivation and engagement of the most recent and relevant social justice and human rights movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, was necessary,” Dr. Monroe explained.

Unfortunately, the road ahead for Dr. Monroe’s groundbreaking new class proved to be far from easy.

“Although the Summer class was successful, there was no support to continue it as an official course offering. Therefore, it was shelved,” Dr. Monroe said.

“However, as a result of an outcry from Rowan students for more courses that address human rights, social justice and race, in 2019 I was asked to resurrect my BLM course and teach it as a topics course in the Africana Studies program,” Dr. Monroe said. “I have been teaching the BLM course every fall since then.”

Nowadays, Dr. Monroe’s classroom is a thriving and safe space for students to speak their truth, and learn at the same time. 

The first thing you notice when you walk into Dr. Monroe’s classroom is a permeating aura of vibrant energy and passionate discourse. Every session begins with a well-being check. During these checks, she calls on students at random to talk about something good that happened to them recently. Class on Monday, Oct. 18, was no different.

“As an educator, there has never been a day where I didn’t ask myself this question- ‘What do my students need to have a meaningful student experience that positions them best for their life trajectory?’” Dr. Monroe explained. “Accordingly, I focus on what my students carry into the classroom in their ‘invisible backpack’ — their story, their narrative and their experiences — first, before conveying content, and engaging them in the teaching and learning process.”

Dr. Monroe then introduced a new assignment to the class. Students were asked to creatively express their feelings with regard to the Black Lives Matter movement through artistic mediums such as poetry, music, film and more.

“I want you to free yourself; I want you to feel liberated,” Dr. Monroe encouraged her students. “What I feel is pain. What I feel is trauma. Once you get to this space, you’re there, and you’re ready to build.”

Senior law and justice major Jamar Green plans to use this opportunity to create an essay, using a poem he wrote after the murder of Breonna Taylor as his inspiration. The poem is the same as the one that Green recited at last year’s Say Her Name protest.

On Monday, Oct. 25, the class was joined by guest speaker Lloyd D. Henderson, president of the Camden County NAACP. The theme and title of Henderson’s presentation were “Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter and Gaining a Better Understanding of the ‘Defund the Police’ Platform.”

What is the difference between a movement and a moment? This question was central to the theme of Henderson’s presentation.

“The difference between a movement and a moment? One word: sacrifice,” Henderson said. 

It takes sacrifice to make a movement happen, Henderson would argue. And it’s about more than those five minutes it gets in the spotlight.

“This movement, this time,” one student argued, “is addressing [systemic racism] head-on.”

At the core, Henderson argues that BLM is a social movement, which is about more than just a moment. 

“Black Lives Matter is a social movement that is awakening America to the way it has treated Black people for years,” Henderson said.

In addition to being a forum for learning and open discussion, Dr. Monroe’s class is also about action.

“We are all sitting here because we have the heart to be agents of change,” Dr. Monroe tells her students. “So how are we going to act?” 

Dr. Monroe, Lloyd Henderson, and Dr. Monroe’s students all emphasize the importance of taking this class for all students.

“You should take this class,” Dr. Henderson said. “From my point of view, because you want to make a difference. You want to make a change.”

“I saw this class and I immediately picked it,” one student recalls. “There was no question.”

Green strongly recommends this class as important for all Rowan students.

“I feel as though everyone, no matter the color, age, race or sex should learn about the BLM movement and the Black culture because Black culture is American culture and Black history is America’s history,” Green said.

Psychology major Jada Talley, a freshman, encourages students to take this class so that they can get more in tune with themselves and the world through a different view.

“ALL students are welcome to take my course. I encourage students to read the course description, review the course syllabus, ask students that have already taken the course about their experience in the class and reach out to me directly with any questions that they may have.” Dr. Monroe said.

The course, entitled “TPS: Black Lives Matter,” carries no prerequisites or corequisites, according to the Self-Service banner. 

The course description states that this course “introduces students to in-depth historical analysis of a selected theme, including work with scholarly sources, intensive writing, and class discussion.” 

Offered every Fall semester, this course gives students an opportunity to earn credits towards a major or minor in Africana Studies, or as a free elective.

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