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Race and Conflict in Classrooms

Secondary Education Major Explores Student Responses to Complicated Emotional Topics

Navigating conversations about race can be difficult — especially in predominantly white classrooms where many students have little experience with conversations surrounding the subject.

Ben Doucette, a curriculum instruction and secondary education major, dove into a research project to investigate how middle schoolers react to information, teachers and each other when presented with historical information about race relations.

For some students, it can be a transformational experience where they learn about themselves and their experiences in the world in a different way, in a different light.
Ben Doucette

According to the Anti-Defamation League, teachers can feel uncomfortable breaching the topic of race in predominantly white classrooms because student assumptions, bias and fears can make conversations difficult to facilitate.

“Equity in education is an important thing, especially in the U.S. where we have a history of colonialism and racism. Those things need to be addressed in an educational setting,” said Doucette.

Doucette, a 22-year-old from Bellingham, Washington, became interested in the topic while taking a course from Assistant Professor Vanessa Anthony-Stevens in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. He teamed up with Anthony-Stevens and her research partner, North Idaho teacher Rebekka Boysen-Taylor, halfway through the first year of the project. The three work together to introduce learning material to students, document student responses and analyze their results.

The students’ reactions were surprising, Doucette said. During the lessons, it was hard for him to determine if the students wanted to learn the correct terminology so they wouldn’t get in trouble or if they were genuinely interested in learning about others and examining their beliefs.

“We have students who are really focused on fitting in and others who are really focused on learning about the content,” Doucette said. “For some students, it can be a transformational experience where they learn about themselves and their experiences in the world in a different way, in a different light.”

Ben Doucette sits at his computer at a table.
Ben Doucette is studying how students react to learning about racial issues.

Doucette created transcripts of conversations and interviews so the team could analyze student interactions. They presented this information at the National Association for Multicultural Education Conference and will publish their work in the future.

Doucette graduated in winter 2019 and is considering pursuing a master’s degree.

Doucette said the most pronounced way his research has affected him is that he knows when he enters a classroom one day, he will possess the ability to have these important conversations with his students.

“I think it’s hard to be good at having these conversations, especially as a white male,” Doucette said. “It’s difficult to be the person leading that conversation, but I will have them, whether it’s going to be perfect or not, whether I’m the right person for that conversation or not. It’s worth doing.”


Article by Alexis Van Horn, a sophomore from Poulsbo, Washington, who is studying journalism.

Photos by Cody Allred, a junior from Council, who is studying public relations.

Ben Doucette is an OUR Travel Grant recipient.

Published in March 2020.

Ben Doucette sits at his computer.
Ben Doucette presented his study at the National Association for Multicultural Education Conference.

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