Wednesday, March 6, 2013

College students have little exposure to African American poetry

There are several reasons, I suppose, that students enjoy reading African American poetry. At least one reason that some of them make me aware of every semester is based on the lack of exposure that they have had to black poetry during their academic careers. Students consistently self-report that they have had little experience reading and discussing poems by African Americans in high school and in college. 

Although the students do not mention it, they have been exposed to aspects of poetry in other modes and forms such as through music, especially rap. They've also probably unconsciously heard or even utilized poetic phrasings that were perhaps routed to African American discourses. Still, I get what the students are saying about having little exposure to clearly defined poems by black writers in classroom contexts.

I was initially surprised that so few students had encountered much black poetry in their middle schools and high schools. I assumed or perhaps simply wanted it to be true that my students from the South Side of Chicago, for instance, would have read works by Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling Plumpp, Carolyn Rodgers, and Haki Madhubuti, or that all of my students had knowledge about various other poets from the Midwest. I shouldn't have been surprised that students were not acquainted with more poetry given that in my own experience, I had little exposure to black poetry as well.       

Despite the fact that our department offers a relatively high number of African American literature courses, and though I present several poems in those classes, students are unlikely to come across much black poetry during their overall college experience. Perhaps, they are unlikely to encounter a considerable amount of poetry of any kind. Black students, in particular though, express frustration about having had so little access to African American poetry, and really African American subject matter in general, in high school and college.     

My thought right now is that those of us with some knowledge about African American poetry (college professors, poets, arts organizers, etc.) and black studies participants could and should do a better job of convincing educators about the value of giving young people positive early exposure to black poetry. On our campus, we might continue and expand our efforts to expose students to poetry in informal settings. We might also address the extents to which interested and potentially interested students might benefit by having access to more ideas and information associated with fields of African American study.   
African American Literature @ SIUE
A Notebook on Collegiate Students  

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