Devin Molina: Teaching Race and Ethnic Relations

Devin Molina: Teaching Race and Ethnic Relations

Race and Ethnic Relations

Devin Molina, Bronx Community College (CUNY)

Keywords: Immigration, policing, race


My primary goal as a participant in the Building Asian American Studies Across the Community College Classroom program was to incorporate more ethnic studies materials, themes, and approaches, and to specifically include more Asian-American Studies themes in the way I teach Race and Ethnic Relations, a 200-level sociology survey course. It was serendipitous that I was going to be teaching a special section of Race and Ethic Relations in spring 2017. The class was part of an ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) Learning Community for Criminal Justice majors. The class was also writing intensive. The other class that was part of the cluster was Introduction to Policing. Participating in the program and in the Learning Community allowed me to refocus the class around policing, broadly defined, to explore the creation and maintenance of racial categories and racial and ethnic inequality in the United States and abroad. The keywords that I chose to emphasize in designing the course were immigration, policing, and race. Approaching the class in this way, and including more of the content and themes from Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies in general has been extremely effective and personally rewarding. I anticipate structuring the class this way for all future sections of Race and Ethnic Relations whether they are part of a similar Learning Community or not.

The class was broken down into seven units. In each unit, I tried to approach the study of race and policing by providing readings and films that described the practices and impacts of (a) official policing efforts (conducted by official law enforcement agencies like local police, FBI, Border Patrol, etc.), (b) unofficial policing (vigilantism), and (c) resistance efforts by policed communities of color. As you can see, I was not always able to do that in each of the units so in future iterations of the course, I hope to better include examples of official and unofficial policing as well as resistance efforts. The units were:

  1. History and theory
    ◦ Provides an overview of the history of the development of the race concept and its link to colonialism, slavery, and political, economic, and social inequality.
  2. Policing the Reservation
    ◦ Discusses the history of colonialism and the criminalization of sovereign indigenous peoples. Explores the connection between that past and current official and unofficial policing activities directed at Natives on and off reservations and Native resistance efforts.
  3. Policing the Plantation
    ◦ Explores the production of racial ideology as a defense of slavery, slave patrols, vigilante violence during Reconstruction and in the Jim Crow South, and the connections between them.
  4. Policing the Border
    ◦ Examines border policing and the policing of non-white immigrant communities from Chinese Exclusion to Trump’s Muslim ban.
  5. Policing the Ghetto
    ◦ Focuses on policing of black and brown bodies in cities across the United States, the War on Drugs, the school to prison pipeline, and mass incarceration.
  6. Policing the Bedroom
    ◦ Details the ways that sexuality, race, and policing intersect in U.S. history and today by discussing anti-miscegenation laws, the connection between Chinese Exclusion Law and the policing of Chinese women’s sexuality in the past to policing Asian women’s sexuality in the present, the policing of black women’s sexuality over time, and asylum policies for lesbian, gay, and transgender migrants.
  7. Policing the Planet
    ◦ Explores the ways that U.S. racial ideologies influence and direct global imperial efforts through the War on Terror and the expansion of the U.S. military footprint across the globe.

As can be seen, the keywords recur throughout the course design. I provided students with reading guides for each of their readings. The reading guides are usually offered to students as a reference to use as they are reading the text. The sample reading guide that I have provided is one of the longer ones—most reading guides are typically 5-7 questions long—because Lee’s argument has many moving pieces. The reading guides are optional and I do not collect them. Students are encouraged to complete them and bring them to class with them to help with the discussion. I also suggest that they do them to help them prepare for exams and quizzes.


For each reading and film viewing assignment that I assigned, students had to complete a formative reading quiz. The quizzes were taken online on Blackboard. The quizzes were always due 30 minutes before the start of class for which the reading was due. As long as they submitted the quiz prior to the deadline, they could take as much time as they wanted to complete the quiz. The purpose of the quizzes, like the reading guides was to help the students focus their reading and better understand it. I was not concerned whether the students took the quizzes after doing the reading or while they were doing the reading. The quizzes were a very effective tool to ensure that the students read something, and that we could have a robust class discussion; often students would refer to a question on the quiz when discussing a reading or film.

As part of their reading assignments, students were required to submit a total of seven 1-2-page reading response papers. Students were split into four groups, and assigned response papers throughout the semester. I provided them with a writing prompt, but students were encouraged to choose their own focus.

I typically assign the response papers to be completed prior to the start of class and handed in prior to the discussion, however, they could also be used as free-write prompts to start the class or as discussion questions for group work.

Additionally, students participated in a semester-long research assignment that culminated in the submission of a 3,000-word research paper on a topic of their choosing related to race and policing. The assignment was a scaffolded assignment that began with a proper research proposal and included annotated bibliographies, outlines, and peer editing.

Class Discussion

Because the class had only 13 students in it, I ran class discussions in a seminar format that emphasized student interaction and discussion. Our discussions were very informal, but I created a detailed discussion outline for each class. I typically over-prepare my course outlines—I did not expect to cover all this material and I like to allow my students to identify the themes and ideas that resonate the most with them—but the outline provides an overview of the key themes that I might cover in a class.


Looking back on the class, there is a lot that I liked about the class, and I have some clear ideas about how I want to improve it in the future. Using an ethnic studies framework based on the immigration, race, and policing keywords combined with a critical race focus was an extremely effective way to teach and learn about race and ethnic relations. Including more Asian-American studies works was also really helpful in addressing the course themes. While I have always included the experience of Asian-Americans in the class by using Erika Lee’s work on Chinese Exclusion and Eithne Luibhéid’s work on the Page Act and the policing of Chinese women’s sexuality, there needed to be more emphasis on the diverse experiences of Asian-Americans today and the intersections between their varied experiences of race and racism and those of other racialized minorities. Consciously choosing to incorporate more Asian-American studies content created opportunities to link diverse struggles, explore more dimensions of white supremacy, and identify the varied impacts that white supremacy has and common ground for mass mobilization against the white supremacy that is embedded in policing structures.

One of the downsides of this approach was the removal of some of the works that I used in the past that emphasized the construction of whiteness and white supremacy. Specifically, I removed readings on the Irish and other White ethnics who were racialized as non-white in the past. Including those in the future will make it easier for students to make connections between slave patrols, Native American genocide and policing, immigration policing, and contemporary forms of institutionalized white supremacy.

I also omitted discussions of Japanese internment which I think was a mistake. My reasoning was that internment was an example of incarceration and not policing, but I chose to include a chapter from Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, which is also about incarceration and not policing per se. I think it is necessary to revisit this decision and make sure that Japanese internment is included in the future.

The truth is, given the breadth of the subject of the course, and given the relevance of most of the materials that we were provided as participants in Building Asian American Studies program, there are a million possible iterations of this course. There is no doubt that I will be constantly tweaking and revising the reading and film selections for this class in future semesters, but through my participation in the program and my engagement with my colleagues in the program, I am happy with the overall design of the course and its effectiveness. This experience has been one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had especially as it relates to curriculum development. Programs like these need to not be restricted to a one-off summer program. CUNY and other institutions of higher learning, that claim to be dedicated to diversity in higher education, need to prioritize creating and incentivizing ongoing collaborative pedagogical groups that are focused on building Asian-American studies and Ethnic studies in general in the college classroom, and developing curricula, teaching materials, and innovative methods that center the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities and that promote student engagement and success.

Sample Teaching Materials

Sample teaching materials used in this course:

Dr. Devin Molina
Race and Ethnic Relations
(Spring 2017, Bronx Community College, CUNY)

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