Speaker Outlines Educational Biases Through Art

Claire Jeantheau ’21, Staff Writer


Black students are 3.5 times more likely than white students to be suspended, expelled or referred to law enforcement according to guest speaker Dr. Melissa Crum. Crum also argued that through analysis of messages in art and other media, teachers can have more positive disciplinary interactions with diverse student populations.

Crum’s lecture, “Race, Gender and Discipline Trends in Education: How We Can Use Art to Address Our Biases,” was presented as Kappa Delta Pi’s Spring Forum event. The annual forum brings scholars to Dickinson to address current educational issues.

Crum incorporated comparisons with art across her presentation. At the beginning of the lecture, she led the audience in a thinking exercise featuring two paintings. One image was a well-known portrait of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. The second, “Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps” by Kehinde Wiley, had been inspired by the original, but featured a young black man in contemporary clothing. Crum asked audience members who they thought was in each picture and why they were present there.

After presenting background information on other works of Wiley’s, Crum invited the audience to reexamine their stories. She explained that teachers should use the same skills when evaluating their students’ backgrounds in light of new information.

“If we do that with all groups of people, any individual,” Crum asks, “how are we making sure…that we’re thinking about them as accurately as possible?”

In another art-focused example, Crum compared the spread of bias to her childhood experiences in watching cartoons. Crum explained that growing up, she believed that all people with British accents were evil, because this trait was shared by the villains of her favorite Disney movies.

“All of this happened without me ever actually coming in contact with anyone from Britain,” Crum said. She asked educators to confront similar biases within their own classrooms, “We have to acknowledge our seemingly passive socialization.”

Sangeeta Goel ’20 hoped that the multicultural practices that Crum spoke about were implemented at more schools. “Honestly,” said Goel, “everything that she addressed I definitely agree with…I have also witnessed … [poor teacher-student relationships] both in my own schooling and when I volunteer at other schools and I just wish that when she talked about establishing a rapport, that that happened at more schools.”

Dineydi Matos ’20, the current secretary of Kappa Delta Pi, introduced the lecture and played a role in bring Crum to Dickinson. Matos found Crum’s profile through the American Speaker’s Bureau. Matos hoped Crum would bring a “different perspective” to the Spring Forum.

“I wanted to bring a person of color on campus to talk about issues that are related to race and rehabilitation in the classroom,” Matos explained. “I was mostly looking for a person of color to come talk because most of the speakers who come on campus are not people of color … and I wanted to have students interact with her.”