Learning From Fort Worth
Trips across the city give students insights about equality, diversity and inclusion as they explore the world around them.
Every class is a field trip for honors students in the new course City as Text: Fort Worth. Through visits to places including museums, schools and neighborhood pools, students have been able to explore and analyze the city’s people and infrastructure through a critical lens.
“I want students to learn experientially about themselves, the city and those around them,” said Wendy Williams, associate professor of professional practice in the John V. Roach Honors College. “Students remember their learning when they’re involved in creating it themselves.”
Williams received grant funding to attend a National Collegiate Honors Council master class in fall 2019 that helped her develop the course for TCU. She shared the idea with Frederick Gooding Jr., the Dr. Ronald E. Moore Professor in Humanities in the honors college. They initially planned to co-teach the course, but higher enrollment resulted in them leading separate sections.
Every week during the fall, professors and students ventured out to discover new places in Fort Worth, with each excursion organized around a theme.
“The course is about exploration,” Williams said. “My job is to inspire curiosity, and their job is to seek out patterns, observe their surroundings and engage the community in ways that allow them to see their environment and themselves anew.”
Gooding decided to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion lessons into his excursions by encouraging students to examine how resources are distributed differently by neighborhood.
“The overall goal of this class is to remind students of how small the world is in which we live,” he said. Every resident, including students, “should have an idea of how the city of Fort Worth is constructed, how it’s put together, where people are thriving and where people may be suffering.”
Braden Harrington, a junior marketing and management major from Oklahoma City, said Gooding opened new perspectives through the class design.
“One thing that we talked about a lot is how a city is like a living and breathing organism, and everything there has a purpose or should have a purpose,” Harrington said. “The way that things are placed makes a big difference.”
Gooding and the 14 honors students in his class met on Friday afternoons. One week, they spoke with administrators from Fort Worth Country Day, a private college preparatory school in the southwest part of the city. Average tuition is about $25,000 per academic year, and about 80 percent of its students identify as white.
“One thing that we talked about a lot is how a city is like a living and breathing organism, and everything there has a purpose or should have a purpose.”
Braden Harrington, a junior marketing and management major
Izzy Desaloms, a junior psychology major from Dallas, said Country Day administrators discussed how they were working with parents and students to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion programming into the curriculum. Upper-level students at Country Day are participating in new student-led programming designed to expose them to a variety of perspectives about heritage, respect and connection.
“After George [Floyd’s death], mostly every organization and school are doing this,” Desaloms said. “They explained how they’re actually doing it. Like it’s not just they’re saying we’re working on diversity and inclusion. They’re actually actively doing it.”
The next week, Gooding and his students met with administrators and students from Crowley High School, a public school in a suburb just south of Fort Worth. Sixty-three percent of Crowley High students come from low-income households, and 19 percent identify as white.
Anthony Johnson ’98 (MEd ’05, EdD ’10) spoke about Destination Diploma, the college readiness program he created for economically disadvantaged Crowley students. Johnson teaches life skills and mentors students, many of whom will be the first in their family to attend college, to instill the confidence they need to be successful after graduating from high school.
“There should always be adults who are willing to help students meet those needs,” Johnson said. “We help them with college readiness, career readiness, support and placement. We help them figure out their next life plan after they graduate high school … whether that’s helping them with a résumé or helping them apply for a job or helping with interview skills.”
Gooding told students that family money is not an indicator of a high school student’s potential for success.
“In the absence of structural resources,” Gooding said, “you see the amount of creativity that [Crowley professionals] leverage in order to make sure that students at least enter into the marketplace feeling confident and prepared.”
After saying goodbye to the Crowley students, the class moved to Fort Worth’s Cultural District to explore the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Students spoke with staff, then pondered the day’s lessons as they strolled through the exhibits.
Observing each piece “helped me become more aware of the importance of having artists in a space,” Harrington said.
The museum staff said they are intentional about selecting art that represents a variety of artists and cultures. To further the museum’s efforts, staffers bring art to community centers in underserved Fort Worth neighborhoods.
Gooding told the class that museum administrators influence culture through the art that they showcase. He said the act of curation “raises a whole host of questions as to who has the power and authority to decide that which is culturally relevant.”
Throughout the semester, the students also discovered how shared experience can be a good basis for friendship.
“We’re actually hanging out outside of class now,” Desaloms said. “Everyone had a different major and minor and were from a different place. They got to bring their own experiences and ideas to the conversation. All different thoughts and opinions were welcomed. And no one was shamed for thinking differently.”