Dr. Lisanne Norman Teaches African American History Class

Whether it’s in the Main Building hallway or in a group chat, you might have heard a few students mention their class that meets at 8 p.m. What is this class all about?
A new course addition to the Humanities and Social Sciences Department, “Honors African American History: From Frederick Douglass to Colin Kaepernick,” examines current systemic inequities and social conditions in the United States by identifying their historical roots. The class considers what it means to be an American and who “gets” to be a patriot by studying examples of institutional racism and major African American figures in history.
The instructor, Dr. Lisanne Norman ’94, taught a similar course while completing her PhD at Harvard University in 2015. Last summer, in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, as well as the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement, students and alumni of color who had experienced racism at the school took to social media to tell their stories and call for change in the community.
Dr. Norman and other alumni were deeply impacted by these posts. After Mr. Yassine Talhaoui, director of diversity and inclusion, and Mr. Jared Hall, dean of academic life, asked if she would be interested in teaching a course, Dr. Norman seized the opportunity to give back to the community and help the school move towards greater diversity and inclusion.
Dr. Norman hopes her students will look critically at the past. She said, “I really want my students to question everything they’ve learned, question how these historical acts have brought us to where we are today and how we can use that knowledge of the past in order to transform our future. Our past doesn’t go away. It’s how we’ve gotten where we are, but let’s understand that it hasn’t always been spoken about in a way that showed the contributions of everyone who makes up America.”
In the past, many students have expressed their hope for the curriculum to include more minority experiences. Keeilah Jewell ’22 said, “Almost all of the honors classes right now are focused on American or European history. None of them really include perspectives outside of the white-male-centric norm, and so it was awesome to see that this African American history class is an honors course.”
Dr. Norman is teaching remotely this spring from her home in Houston, Texas. She hopes to continue teaching the class and possibly others that examine the African American experience in years to come.