AFRAM 498 A: Special Topics in African American Studies

Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing: #BlackLivesMatter in Historical Context

Meeting Time: 
F 1:30pm - 4:20pm
* *
Joint Sections: 
Headshot of a woman wearing glasses. African mudcloth in background.
La TaSha Levy

Syllabus Description:

#BlackLivesMatter in Historical Context
A Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing
Black women hold a sign that reads "Black Lives Matter." Setting is at a rally or march.
Instructor: Prof. Levy


This course explores the emergence of #BlackLivesMatter as a critical development in a long history of Black resistance to anti-Black racism and state violence. While the recent movement has organized campaigns against police murders, mass incarceration and other iterations of racial marginalization, #BlackLivesMatter also conjures specific intellectual and activist traditions in African American history. In this course, students will examine the origins of #BlackLivesMatter, as an ideological intervention, alongside the historical events, organizations and leaders who have given it inspiration. Course material will engage the political thought of Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Assata Shakur and Ella Baker—all of whom figure prominently in #BlackLivesMatter historical frames. Students will also engage an ever-growing body of intellectual interventions (both academic and public scholarship) that interrogate the social, cultural, and economic contexts of racial violence in the United States and beyond.


As we study the #BlackLivesMatter movement in historical context, we will practice the art of public writing – the ability to translate complex arguments and professional jargon to a broad audience. College learning affords us the opportunity to acquire the skills, concepts, and theories to understand and explore the world we live in, but it is critical that we never lose our ability to communicate these powerful ideas to a wide audience, outside of the ivory tower. This seminar is a time for you to find your voice and learn to write with confidence, knowledge and clarity. Effective writing is a highly marketable skill for any career field you may choose.

Our studies demand that we commit the next 10 weeks to a remix of the maxim “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” In this course we will cultivate a writing practice committed to knowledge for the sake of service – a core principle of the Black Studies tradition. How do we take what we learn in our college courses and communicate effectively with a popular audience? Black Studies (also known as African American Studies) was founded on the idea of “relevant education.” This course provides a unique opportunity to revisit that imperative by breaking down Black Studies scholarship for everyday people.



  • Barbara Ransby, Making All Black Lives Matter (available at the University Bookstore)
  • Imani Perry, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons (available as an e-book through the UW library catalogue)

All other reading and viewing materials are available through Canvas or click on the hyper-link.



Each class will include a 30 to 45-minute discussion of the course assignment followed by a 10-minute break. After the break, we will then start the “Writer’s Table” to offer constructive feedback to the writers of the week.

Each week, you will either play the role of Author or Editor. You will learn how to give and receive constructive commentary and feedback through peer-editing. In addition to digging into the course material, we will also use class time to discuss the process of writing and work through and confront any challenges.

Here is a breakdown of the course flow. Don’t worry if it sounds a bit confusing. You will receive a schedule and reminders each week.

            Step 1: Students are divided into two groups, A & B, and remain within that group for the
            rest of the quarter.

            Step 2: Each week, the groups will alternate between the roles of Author and Editor

(For instance, Week 2 – Group A will write and submit drafts, and Group B will serve as peer-editors. In week 3, Group B will submit a writing assignment and Group A will serve as editors. The groups will alternate each week, serving as either writer or editor.)

           Step 3: I will pair each author with an editor for the week. (Pairs will rotate weekly and will be               assigned at the end of each class period.)           

           Step 4: Each pair will decide on a deadline for the author to submit a draft to their partner
          (the editor) for peer-editing. When the editor returns the edited draft to their author, they
          should copy me on the email. (

           Step 5: The author will revise the draft based on the editor’s comments and submit their
          “manuscript to a weekly Google Docs folder by Thursday at 9 a.m. No late submissions! You                    will  have another opportunity to improve the draft. The most important point is to submit
          your  draft by the deadline!

          Step 6: Class will convene on Fridays to workshop each writer’s paper for a session we will call              “The Writers Table.” Each editor will open discussion for the “Writers Table,” identifying           
          strengths, problem areas, and suggestions for their partner’s work. Everyone will offer               
          feedback to each author, including notes on clarity, argument, style, tone, and suggestions for                improvement and praise for a job well done.

          Step 7: The authors for the week will revise their work based on class discussion, as well as
          comments from the instructor. Authors will then submit a final draft to Canvas within 7 days.

Success in this course requires your commitment to the process. Reading and writing assignments are relatively short. The key is to keep the rhythm of reading, writing, editing, and revising.



Assignment Submissions – 50%

Portfolio (Final Project) – 15%

Peer Editing and Facilitation – 35%


Throughout the quarter, students will write and revise the following assignments with a target audience in mind (consider publication venues such as Essence, Teen Vogue, Black Youth Project, The Griot, or The Guardian). We will review how to approach each writing assignment and view samples in class.

  • TWEET – due on first day of class
  • ARTICLE (750 words)
  • BOOK REVIEW (750 words)
  • 5 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW (750 words)

*The Final Project is a portfolio and reflection that features the drafts you have submitted to class alongside the final drafts you have submitted to Canvas. In addition, your portfolio must include a 750-word reflection about your growth over the course of the quarter.

The Portfolio is due on December 11th.



Attendance is required. The collaborative nature of this course requires every student to attend each class on Zoom. In the event that you are unable to attend, please give notice as soon as possible so that we can make alternative arrangements. If you are not able to commit to attending class regularly, arrange a meeting with me to discuss whether or not this course is a good fit for you. Understand that your health should be your number-one priority in these times. If you are feeling ill, please send me an email as soon as you can. And take care of yourself!

Deadlines are fixed. The fast-paced nature of the course requires that each student meets the deadline! No extensions. The readings, with a couple of exceptions, are relatively short and so are the writing assignments. You must avoid waiting until the morning before class to complete the reading and offer feedback to your colleagues! This is important. Success in this course is based largely on submitting the assignments on time. You will have chances to revise your assignments for multiple submissions. Don’t let perfectionism and poor time management get you off rhythm. Here is an opportunity to practice time management and accountability. Like Nike, just do it!

Submission of work. Your writing assignments will go through 3 cycles:

  • Please submit your first draft to your peer-editor using Google Docs.
  • Submit your second draft to the Google Docs folder for the week.
  • Submit your final revised draft on Canvas as a Word Document. If you do not have Microsoft Word on your computer, visit UW IT Connect for a free download of Microsoft Office.
  • When editing your peer’s work, use the editing function on Google Docs to type in your suggestions. We will review this feature in class.

Zoom. Our course will meet on Friday afternoons using the Zoom platform. You will log onto the Zoom link and remain unmuted until class begins at 1:30 p.m. When we begin the course activity, please keep your mic muted to avoid background noise on the video call. If you have a question, use the “raise hand” feature so that I can call on you to unmute your mic and speak. If I fail to recognize your raised hand, just unmute your mic and offer a polite interruption. We are all still getting used to the virtual format. Let’s remember to have patience, have grace, and be respectful of the shared space. I will readily call on you from time to time to offer commentary and to build on ideas during discussion of course material. Be ready to unmute your mic, and let’s discuss!

In order to strengthen our virtual connection, I would prefer that you turn your video on, at least for the class activity and the Writer’s Table. Zoom fatigue is real, so you are welcome to turn off your video to protect your own energy and your eyes. Turning off the video also helps with connection issues as well. If you are having problems with your internet connection, you can use the call in-option and dial into the class meeting as a conference call on your phone.

I will also allow questions and comments in the chat box. But I encourage you to raise those ideas in the discussion if time permits.

Practice Professionalism. Part of the college experience is to prepare you for the professional world. Much of the design of this seminar (hard deadlines; peer-review; collaboration; constructive criticism; writing skills; accountability; juggling multiple projects) reflect what is required in a professional setting. Be mindful of professional etiquette in your email correspondence: for instance, always start emails with a salutation; address the instructor as “Dr.” or “Professor” (unless they specifically ask you to call them by their first name); due to unequal gender relations, never refer to female instructors as “Ms.” (In all cases, “Professor [Last Name]” is appropriate.) In addition, practice professionalism in your class conduct, interactions with your colleagues, and in the quality of your work. If you need to eat while class is in session, consider turning your video off to avoid distractions. Take pride in your written work. Always add your name, date, and title to each assignment. Respectfully disagree during discussions. And remember the golden rule! Oh, and remember to wear bottoms while on Zoom!

Plagiarism is never an option. Copying the ideas of others is one of the greatest offenses in academia. Do not copy the ideas and work of others! New technologies allow instructors to recognize plagiarism within minutes. It is unnecessary and not worth the trouble. Your ideas and your own voice matter much more than having a perfect and polished product. If you are having trouble with the material, do not hesitate to contact me and we can think it through together! That’s what I’m here for. Never, ever plagiarize. Give yourself enough time to read, digest and think quickly about the material in order to complete assignments. You will get feedback to improve the quality of your work. That’s the point of the course - to allow your newborn to grow and develop over time!

Most cases of plagiarism are unintentional. Please read through university guidelines for Student Academic Responsibility to learn about unintentional plagiarism and how to avoid it. I am obligated to report any suspicion of plagiarism, whether intentional or unintentional, for review and investigation.

UW Access and Accommodations. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please activate your accommodations via myDRS so we can discuss how they will be implemented in this course. If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), contact DRS directly to set up an Access Plan. DRS facilitates the interactive process that establishes reasonable accommodations. Contact DRS at

(Historical Documents are Bulleted)

10/2: Week 1


10/9: Week 2

Group A

-Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement,” Feminist Wire, October 7, 2014

-Robin D. G. Kelley, “Thug Nation: On State Violence and Disposability” in Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Henderson (London and New York: Verso, 2016)

Assignment: 5 Things You Should Know

10/16: Week 3

Group B

-Alondra Nelson, “The Longue Durée of Black Lives Matter,” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 106, no. 10: October 2016

 Assignment: 5 Things You Should Know

10/23: Week 4

Group A

-Report: Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected, African American Policy Forum, 2015

-Kimberlé Crenshaw, “The Urgency of Intersectionality,” TedX, 2016


Assignment: Article

10/30: Week 5

Group B

-Megan Ming Francis, “Ida B. Wells and the Economics of Racial Violence,” Reading Racial Conflict Series, ITEMS, The Social Science Research Council, January 24, 2017

  • Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors, 1892


Assignment: Article

11/6: Week 6

Group A/B

-Barbara Ransby, Making All Black Lives Matter

Assignment: Prepare for Discussion of Chapters 1-6

11/13: Week 7

Groups A

-FINISH Barbara Ransby, Making All Black Lives Matter

Guest Speaker

Assignment: Book Review

11/20: Week 8

Group B

-Imani Perry, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019)

  • Audre Lorde, “Power” in The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Copyright 1978 (W.W. Norton and Company, 1997)

Assignment: Book Review

11/27: No Class


No Assignment Due



12/4: Week 10


Group A

Documentary Film: Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, 2018


·       Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 3 (Fall 1981)


Assignment: Documentary Analysis


12/11: Week 11


Group B

Documentary Film: Ferguson: A Report from Occupied Territory


·       James Baldwin, A Report from Occupied Territory, The Nation, July 11, 1966


Assignment: Documentary Analysis


12/14: Week 12


Groups A/B



Portfolio Due by 11:59 p.m.


Additional Details:

As a part of the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing Program, founded at Wellesley University, this honors seminar guides students through a collaborative, intensive-writing project that communicates complex ideas to a general audience. How do we effectively take what we learn in the classroom and apply it to public conversations about the history of racial violence and resistance? Through short lectures, dynamic discussions, diverse writing exercises and peer-editing, students will co-create an innovative experience that engages the general public about the origins and contributions of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.


This course explores the emergence of #BlackLivesMatter as a critical development in a long history of Black resistance to anti-black racism and state violence. While the recent movement has organized campaigns against police shootings, mass incarceration and other iterations of racial marginalization, #BlackLivesMatter also conjures specific intellectual and activist traditions in African American history. In this course, students will examine the origins of #BlackLivesMatter as an ideological intervention, alongside the historical events, organizations, and leaders who have given it inspiration. Course material will engage the political thought of Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Assata Shakur and Ella Baker—all of whom figure prominently in #BlackLivesMatter historical frames. 

Catalog Description: 
Topics in which students and faculty have developed an interest as a result of work done in other classes or as a result of the need to investigate in greater depth Afro-American Studies issues. Topics vary.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
July 7, 2020 - 9:20pm