An hour with
Associate Professor Dorian Brown
This month we caught up with Dorian Brown, associate professor of history at St. Louis Community College, and talked history, hip hop, and higher education.
They may not always get the credit they deserve, but we think every educator deserves a chance to shine. Each month, we’ll be featuring an up-and-coming educator and giving you a glimpse of their life inside and outside of the classroom.
Dorian is a native of East St. Louis (he jokingly references the Saturday Night Live skit that nods to the neighborhood’s turbulent existence). His mother was a professional dancer, and from a young age he gravitated toward hip hop music and history books.
Following a winding educational path that had him dabbling in engineering, math, and law school, he ultimately listened to his heart and went after his master’s degree in history. He says of his transition into teaching history that he wouldn’t have it any other way—teaching and history are his two passions, and he feels right at home in the classroom. In fact, he’s currently pursuing his PhD to continue his personal growth and commitment to learning.
In addition to artists such as Lauryn Hill, Ice Cube, Jay-Z, and The Roots (whose music is laced with deep historical references), Dorian loves being able to show his students the real relevance of history and help them understand that history is being made all around them. This requires them appreciate that the things that happened “so long ago” actually weren’t all that long ago, value their own place in history, and grasp the importance of being an active citizen in their communities.
Favorite history lesson
Post-World War II and the Civil Rights movement is his favorite period to teach. Dorian thinks this particular era of American history highlights the value of the individual citizen’s rights and the part that all Americans can play in helping the nation live up to its Constitutional obligations.
Proudest teaching moment
Dorian is known as a bit of a stickler on campus, and his class has a reputation for being tough. He insists this is to ensure that all students have an equal chance of success. At the end of one semester, a student approached him and told him she initially didn’t want to take his class, having heard how difficult it was, but was glad she had. She ultimately learned to thrive and felt she was better equipped to do big things in the real world with the critical thinking skills she had obtained in his class.
Secret weapon in the classroom
Dorian knows how to teach in a language students understand, and he often adapts material to their frame of reference. He’s always thinking with his history brain and brings film and music references into the classroom to help elaborate on a point. (Although he jokes that the older he gets, the less likely students are to understand his pop culture references!)
Sometimes he’ll pull up Facebook to get a discussion going or show a scene from Schoolhouse Rock. He also challenges students to truly think critically and to not only rely on information from sources they are comfortable with. Challenging perspectives and opinions is the name of the game when it comes to critical thinking!
Where can you find him outside of class?
He and his wife have embraced a YOLO attitude towards life and try to spend as much time as they can traveling. A trip to Morocco following the death of Dorian’s father was one of his most memorable and life-changing experiences. When he’s not in the classroom or accumulating air miles, Dorian enjoys working out and visiting museums.
Personal education philosophy
“The teacher opens the door. You have to walk through it.” Dorian believes strongly in the need for students to approach learning with passion and a willingness to work hard, and that they should not expect to be given their grades just for showing up or paying tuition. If and when they do so, they can truly grow into informed citizens and become makers of history themselves.
How does he respond to the phrase “Learning makes us”?
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. If you’re not learning and growing as a person, you’re not truly living. Learning truly does make us.”