It was the late ’60s, and 10 college students wanted to challenge the racist norms they saw all around them. At the heart of their activism was a powerful declaration – one they were moved to place squarely on the jacket of their book.
“America Is a Racist Society!”
Now one of the authors of that book is working with a Chapman University professor and some reflective students to update the racial-justice narrative for a new generation. The result is an Honors course called “Race Matters: Institutional Racism in the US,” taught by Professor Carmichael Peters and featuring the mentorship and teaching of university Trustee Andrew Horowitz.
Killing of George Floyd Stirs a New Course of Action
In 1968, Horowitz was a senior at Stanford University as the realities of racism drove millions across the nation to advocate for change. In May 2020, as the killing of George Floyd stirred new imperatives for action, Horowitz was transported back to his activist college days.
It was his daughter-in-law who suggested it was time to revisit and republish “Institutional Racism in America,” the book Horowitz and nine classmates had written more than 50 years before.
“I thought about who I could call to help me figure out how to do this, and I decided the best person was Daniele Struppa,” recalls Horowitz, who built a career as a telecom entrepreneur and angel investor before joining the Chapman Board of Trustees.
After Horowitz shared his book with the Chapman president, “Daniele called me the next day and said, ‘This is amazing. I want us to redo what you did,’” Horowitz said.
Struppa connected Horowitz with Peters, Ph.D., associate professor of religious studies in Wilkinson College of Art, Humanities, and Social Sciences, as well as director of the University Honors Program. Peters crafted a fall seminar course in which students read challenging source material and joined in multifaceted conversations. The goal is “to update the book with new ways of addressing the problem of institutional racism from the perspective of Gen Z,” Horowitz said.
‘Old Guard’ Enlists Gen Z to Consider Opportunities for Reform
At the center of the class were engrossing weekend discussions involving not just students and instructors but many of the 1969 book’s original authors – a group that includes three physicians, two retired teachers, two ministers and a lawyer.
“Every Saturday for four hours, we gathered virtually, and this community was created around this tragic murder,” Peters said. “There was this sense of urgency to address an uncomfortable subject, and we had these wonderful students to join us. The reading was heavy. The people were consistent. And by the end, we had this wonderful community.”
The experience of considering all the ways that racism is embedded in institutions, and then developing strategies for rooting it out, was both exhilarating and draining, Peters said.
‘The Most Relevant Course I’ve Taught in a Long, Long Time’
“It was the most difficult semester I have had in my teaching career,” added Peters, who has decades of classroom experience. “I was exhausted, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I looked forward to each Saturday. It’s the most relevant course I’ve taught in a long, long time. I looked forward not just to covering the material but to sitting down with these folks – the Old Guard and Gen Z, as Andy calls them – for open, honest conversation.”
Horowitz also found the experience greatly rewarding, especially as he encountered the students’ engagement and generosity.
“You know, when we were their age, we wrote off anyone over 30 as irrelevant,” he said. “The students in this class had a very different perspective.”
Peters recalls a cross-generational discussion late in the fall semester on the subject of intersectionality – where issues of race overlap with those of gender, class and other justice considerations.
“One young student argued that the understanding of intersectionality needs to be pushed further,” Peters said. “She said it has to include all generations, including seniors. For me, it was a moving moment of inclusion, as the youth took the lead.”
Differing Perspectives Energize Meaningful Dialogue
here were also challenges – times when perspectives clashed. As the group discussed campus busts of historical figures with histories some students find troubling, Horowitz felt like his heart was with the activists as he also understood the perspective of Chapman administrators. But in those moments of consideration, commitments to respectful discourse never wavered. In the end, students from a range of majors and backgrounds joined with the “Old Guard” in a search for new paths forward.
The journey continues during the spring semester, as a second iteration of the class picks up the work of updating the book.
“The focus is going to be on solutions – ways the group can share its perspective and make it real in the world,” Horowitz said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Learn more about the Chapman University Honors Program.