By Published: June 8, 2021

Anti-racism I and II are available free of charge to any CU Boulder student or employee through Coursera

A year ago, George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer ignited global condemnation and protests. Appalled by the violence, Scott Millspaugh, a learning experience designer in the Office of Academic and Learning Innovation at the University of Colorado Boulder, wanted to make a change for the greater good.

Millspaugh reached out to the Department of Ethnic Studies seeking collaborators. Shawn O’Neal, a PhD candidate, and Jennifer Ho, professor and director of the Center for Humanities & the Arts, responded. Together the three collaborated to develop an online Coursera course on anti-racism. 

The team’s anti-racism courses—Anti-racism I and II—are now MOOCs (massive open online courses), which are open access, non-credit classes offered through Coursera, and available to millions of potential learners.

“At the time, some of my colleagues were expressing a desire to go to Denver to protest,” Millspaugh said. “I felt there was something more we could do. With a global platform, I wanted to do something with Coursera.” 

I felt there was something more we could do. With a global platform, I wanted to do something with Coursera.​"

More than 15,480 learners have enrolled in Anti-Racism I so far and nearly 7,000 have interacted with the content. The course was even featured by Mashable in their “best of” anti-racism courses—specifically the best college-style Anti-Racism class.

Anti-Racism I is an introduction to the topic of race and racism in the United States. The course is for anyone who is interested in those topics but who has never delved into ethnic studies or the affiliated field of critical race studies. It is also for those who have never read a book about race or racism, or attended any race equity or diversity trainings. 

Students learn about systemic and institutional racism, and the unequal history of race in the United States, which has created hierarchies that have disenfranchised Black Americans and other people of color.

The courses also teach:

  • How to talk about race and racism;
  • How to distinguish between talking about race or racism and participating in racist acts;
  • How to use contemporary intersectional terminology through a provided glossary; and
  • How to define systemic and institutional racism.

Antiracism course leaders

Jennifer Ho, Scott Millspaugh and Shawn O'Neal.

“The reason why this is important to me is that I grew up in a really small community in western North Carolina,” Millspaugh said. “It was not diverse. I never met an Asian American until after college. When I got out in the world, I came to understand that I am a white upper-middle class man, and that is significant in terms of how people treat me and how people see me.”

The development of this course used Millspaugh’s skills in designing learning experiences to respond to racialized violence and social injustice and utilized O’Neal and Ho’s areas of expertise in ethnic studies and critical race theory. They hope the course will help learners come to terms with how events of the past year have altered our views of who we are.

Part of what the course focuses on is how white people can disrupt what they think of as normal, because whiteness is complicated and implicated in systems of power, one that also involve gender norms, sexual norms, able-bodiedness and other social constructs.

“It’s a fact that marginalized, subjugated groups in this country have had to think about their identifying significances on a daily basis,” O’Neal said. “But I think most white people have never engaged in their whiteness, and that’s problematic. Self-engagement in who you are, in your whiteness—your history and what your history means—is where the course starts. We’re challenging people to evaluate who they really are.”

We’re trying to show the complexity of race and racism and to empower people to embrace anti-racism, because it’s a choice that all of us can make.”

A discussion prompt early in the course asks learners to reflect on when they first realized their race. From the discussion boards, it seems nonwhite learners expressed an awareness of their race in early childhood. 

Almost all people identifying as white who responded to this question said they didn’t realize they were white until later in life. Responses such as these indicate the cultural experiences of people in the United States. And that, the team said, illustrates why this course is necessary.

The three team members are developing two more courses on anti-racism, with plans to offer a specialization certificate to students. 

“I feel my calling is to be an anti-racism educator and to create a wider platform for learning,” Ho said. “This course gives us that wider platform to reach more people. It’s possible that some people will be challenged taking this course, because for a certain segment of people when they hear we’re talking about whiteness, what they may think we’re saying is that we hate white people, or we think all white people are racist.” 

“We’re trying to show the complexity of race and racism and to empower people to embrace anti-racism, because it’s a choice that all of us can make.”

Anti-Racism I and II are available for free on CU on Coursera. All students and employees of the CU system have access to all Coursera courses created by affiliated faculty. To enroll in the course, go to the CU on Coursera site.