Westfield State University professor’s co-authored publication to receive AACTE Outstanding Book Award

WESTFIELD, Mass.— The ground-breaking book, Letting Go of Literary Whiteness: Antiracist Literature Instruction for White Students, co-authored by Westfield State University English Professor Sophia Sarigianides, Ph.D., and Carlin Borsheim-Black, Ph.D., has been named the 2022 recipient of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) Outstanding Book Award. 


In Letting Go, the authors use classroom examples to offer discipline-specific practices for implementing antiracist literature instruction in white-dominant schools. Dr. Borsheim-Black is a professor of English language and literature at Central Michigan University. 

“We wrote this book out of an urgency to figure out how to address race and racism in our predominantly-white college classrooms of students who often return to predominantly white districts to teach literature,” Dr. Sarigianides explained. “Though we knew how to address race and racism in majority-minority teaching contexts, we wanted to develop strategies for white-dominant contexts believing and knowing that so much racial harm stems from white actions and inactions.  

“What would happen if those white students knew more, learned more about race and racism from middle school on, we wondered? And that’s what we designed in this book: multiple strategies for taking up rigorous, serious race work that did not sacrifice literary analysis and engagement, but deepened it. 

“In writing this book, we wanted middle and high school English teachers to have a speed-track set of options for taking up race work. To not have to feel like they had to invite the wheel for making race and racism explicit; for keeping a focus on it sustained across curriculum; for knowing the many ways that race-based dialogue can get sticky, but having strategies for responding to such moments.  

“Already, we have heard back from so many teachers in the field who appreciate the strategies in the book, and who are putting them to use. The surprise for us has been that teacher candidates who choose to work in majority-minority schools, a decision we deeply encourage, of course, are also sharing how beneficial many of these strategies are for their own literature instruction. We see it as a beginning, and cannot wait to see where these strategies take the brilliant teachers doing this work in their schools,” Dr. Sarigianides concluded. 

Dr. Borsheim-Black added, “I have been grappling with the challenges and possibilities of teaching about racism through literature study for many years, so collaborating on this book with Sophia has been a dream come true. Seeing it in the hands of teachers—and earning this award—is both thrilling and humbling.”

 The award will be presented at the AACTE annual meeting March 4 in New Orleans, La. 

 The reaction to Letting Go has been widespread, as the publication was nominated in 2021 for the Grawemeyer Award in Education, coveted recognition in the field. “The Grawemeyer Award in Education, administered by the University of Louisville since 1988, is intended to stimulate thoughtful discussion and implementation of ideas that have potential to have a positive impact on educational practice,” said Dr. Jeffrey C. Valentine, director of the Grawemeyer Award in Education in the University of Louisville’s College of Education & Human Development. 

In 2020, Westfield State’s teacher education program and growing work in antiracist education received a seven-year accreditation with commendation from the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP). Westfield State is the first institution of higher education in the AAQEP membership to receive commendation from the organization. 

Founded in 1839 by Horace Mann, Westfield State University is an education leader committed to providing every generation of students with a learning experience built on its founding principle as the first public co-educational college in America to offer an education without barrier to race, gender or economic status. This spirit of innovative thinking and social responsibility is forged in a curriculum of liberal arts and professional studies that creates a vital community of engaged learners who become confident, capable individuals prepared for leadership and service to society. For more information about Westfield State University, visit www.westfield.ma.eduwww.twitter.com/westfieldstate, or https://www.facebook.com/WestfieldStateUniversity. 

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