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'THUG' Event Series examines language, tackles race and bias

The English Secondary Education program is sponsoring a series of events from November through January that are open to the public and geared toward both current and future teachers.

The series, aptly named THUG Event Series, is inspired by Angie Thomas’ book "The Hate U Give," which is required reading for students enrolled in the two sections of English 302: Introduction to the English Language, taught by April Baker-Bell and Lamar Johnson.

The novel provides a foundation to explore how identity is conceived through language expression and is being used as a vehicle to facilitate conversation and instruction about the intersection of race, bias, identity and power.

Baker-Bell, assistant professor in the Department of English and African-American and African Studies program, and Johnson, assistant professor in the Department of English, chose "The Hate U Give" because it fosters opportunities for language study beyond standard American English. Instead, the course challenges students to consider how language, particularly black or African-American language, informs identity and experience.

“For me, 'The Hate U Give' illustrates how black language reflects black people’s ways of knowing, interpreting, surviving and being in the world,” Baker-Bell said. “The book also shows how it is nearly impossible to separate a person’s language from their racial positioning in society. Most of the students in ENG 302 are preparing to be English teachers. One of my intentions this semester is to illustrate how they can use literature like 'The Hate U Give' to work against perpetuating linguistic racism, anti-blackness and violence in their future classrooms.”

Both Baker-Bell's and Johnson’s students attended a screening of "The Hate U Give," which was recently released as a major motion picture by 20th Century Fox, at a local Lansing movie theater on Oct. 22 and Oct. 24.

Tiffany Whittington, a junior majoring in English, found the film to be realistic and emotional. However, reading and discussing the book has provided her with opportunities to explore language beyond what she describes as a traditional study.

Whittington describes the book as “woke,” and an excellent choice to train future teachers.

“It uses black language and shows the reality of being black and living in America,” she said. “These are aspects that future teachers should be aware of before they start teaching.”

The decision to use the novel "The Hate U Give" and to design an entire event series around the study of Thomas’ book is on par with what Baker-Bell intends to achieve with the book she is currently writing on linguistic justice — a framework to implement in the classroom that will best reach linguistically marginalized students of color, particularly black youth.

Whittington noted "The Hate U Give" points to what she already knew about racial bias.

“Being black in America means you must proceed with caution," she said. "Society fears us as black individuals, and if you aren’t careful, you can easily lose your life."

The THUG Event Series includes a dialogue and live Twitter chat from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5, in Erickson Hall.

The next event on Dec. 5 is a collaboration between MSU English education students and faculty who will come together with an English language arts class from Detroit Denby High School. The final event on Jan. 12, THUG Teach-in, is a professional development event for educators interested in receiving support and teaching resources for the book "The Hate U Give." This event is open to the public.

By: Beth Brauer

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