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Anti-Racism in the World Language Classroom

By Krishauna Hines-Gaither | Published: July 21, 2020

As we denounce the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others, the world stands at attention. In the midst of these atrocities, institutions worldwide are reassessing their diversity and inclusion efforts. Few want to be on the wrong side of history. Innumerable world language organizations have released statements condemning police brutality, and are now devoting funds to anti-racist programs. As a profession, we must make a commitment to continue the momentum of today, while simultaneously interrogating our past, present and future.  

Thirty-three years after its inception, I became the first African American to win the undergraduate scholarship from the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina. A decade later, I became the first African American president of the same organization. It is with great pride that I relay these accolades; however, as a profession we must reckon with why it took three to four decades to make these strides. Limited representation is indicative of most of our language organizations. What factors contribute to these low numbers, and why have they been perpetuated over time? Becoming an anti-racist community compels us to be open to this degree of examination.

In my experience, there was a paucity of African American language educators at every level from bachelor's to Ph.D. In all of my schooling, I have never had a Black language instructor. Furthermore, for most of my students, I was their first. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of the 17,642 bachelor's degrees conferred in foreign languages, literatures and linguistics in 2016–2017, recipients were 58% (10,273) white, 23% (4,074) Latinx, 12% (2,142) Asian, 4.8% (859) African American, 4.4% (781) two or more races, 3% (536) non-residents and 0.27% (48) American Indian/Alaskan Native. These statistics will shift only when resources are devoted to recruitment and retention efforts.


A Black teenager and her Black languge teacher work on a laptop. A map of the world, centered on Africa, hangs in the background.
For African American language students, having 
teachers and materials that reflect their lives has
been a rare and precious experience. 

Randolph and Johnson (2017) asserted, “In language education, we need more diverse voices and approaches ... to amplif[y] the voices of the marginalized” (p. 118). As an African American language learner, I consistently sought connections to my lived experiences. Never seeing myself represented in the course content made it challenging to find these points of convergence. Of the dozens of language classes that I took, I only recall two instances when an instructor incorporated a lesson on Black experiences, and these were singular references.  

The lessons included Federico Garcia Lorca's writings about African Americans in Harlem, NY, and a short story about racism in Puerto Rico by Mervin Román Capeles. As scarce as these references were, it is telling that I still recall the titles, readings, authors, and the way that they made me feel; finally, there was content that spoke to my soul. Most students today also experience a dearth of diverse content. For example, of the almost 40 readings offered by the College Board® for Advanced Placement Spanish Literature and Culture, only two are authored by Afro-descendants: Afro-Cubans Nicolás Guillén and Nancy Morejón. 

The aforementioned examples speak to larger systemic problems of inclusion within the world language community. These inequities result from centuries of elitism and bias; therefore, they will not be dismantled overnight. Our goal is to interrogate our discipline; not to tear it down, but to build it up. As language educators, we have a profound opportunity to ameliorate the way that we do business.

Note: Dr. Krishauna Hines-Gaither will provide a webinar titled Anti-Racism in the World Language Classroom for program staff at Concordia Language Villages on July 21. She will offer tangible tools and strategies for incorporating anti-racism content and teaching strategies at the Villages.

About the Author

A headshot of Dr. Hines-Gaither, wearing a navy and white floral print dress and pearl earrings

Dr. Krishauna Hines-Gaither serves as the Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. She has taught Spanish, race & ethnicity studies, women and gender studies and (Afro) Latin American studies. She is the past president of the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina, past chair of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages SIG for Educators of African American Students, and she co-founded African American Linguists. She was named the 2013 World Language Teacher of the Year in Higher Education by the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina. Dr. Hines-Gaither offers dynamic, engaging and results-driven workshops, presentations and keynotes on a range of topics and across disciplines. She is the owner of Hines-Gaither Consulting, LLC, a firm that is dedicated to supporting and promoting inclusion. Dr. Hines-Gaither is also a popular blogger at

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