Howard Stevenson teaches racial rapport 101

Since 1990, Howard Stevenson has been conducting research on racial socialization and interventions, and teaching racial literacy as a professor in the Graduate School of Education. One of the challenges he embraces is leading trainings that unpack racial encounters and offers tools to navigate those encounters to move forward in an informed way.


The onus of teaching kids about slavery and historical racial discrimination falls on teachers who themselves may need training in racial and historical sensitivity. For Stevenson, everyone can benefit from role playing and racial socialization. Teachers need to recognize that teaching history to a diverse classroom can be traumatizing to some kids, and white kids may not recognize why those lessons themselves are triggering.

For teachers, their responsibility is to both teach and understand racial empathy and coping. That is where Stevenson steps in, getting teachers to ask, “How do I get to know somebody else’s world? It’s not easy,“ he says. “But you’re not in an easy job.”

Through Stevenson’s Can We Talk? Program, educators can request teacher trainings that are designed to simulate high-stress race discussions. These planned discussions prepare teachers for difficult conversations and scenarios in the real-life classroom. According to Stevenson, when people find themselves in unfamiliar and challenging situations, their defenses go up. By reducing the stress for the parties involved, racially charged instances can be diffused. Stevenson teaches participants to read the situation in order to understand the encounter accurately. Individuals then can identify and recast their stress in order to move towards resolution.

Read, recast, and resolve. As racial tensions have grown more raw and prevalent in the last few years, Stevenson has developed a growing list of acronyms for various participants to cultivate racial awareness. Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth (PLAAY), for boys ages 9-18 to navigate disrespect away from aggression. SHAPE-UP trains barbers as health educators, and Engaging, Managing, and Bonding through Race (EMBRace) helps parents talks about racial trauma with their kids. 

“Saving the world (from systemic racism) is a lot harder,” he says. “But stress management around race is immeasurable. It’s hopeful. Young people can learn from it, even if systems don’t.”

Read more at The Pennsylvania Gazette.