Something the Lord Made

Lesson Plan, Film Discussion, and Class Activities

Pamela Felder, Ph.D.

General Course Outcome: To facilitate professional learning, as well as racial and cultural awareness competency

Key Learning Audience: Emerging professionals in higher education

Scope and Sequence

This lesson plan is primarily designed to be used during a fifteen-week semester as part of a course on professional development in higher education. This course introduces emerging higher education professionals to situational challenges and dilemmas that may occur within the college and university environment. Challenges and dilemmas are introduced for the purpose of increasing awareness; understanding their influence on college and university environments, self-development, and professional relationships; and identifying strategies for managing them. For a traditional fifteen week course it is recommended that the class view this movie together during one session, with a discussion to follow during the next class session. This plan could be incorporated into an accelerated format (e.g. an intensive one-day workshop). However, students should view the film prior to the session and there should be ample time for discussion. (2 to 3 hours is recommended for a class of 15 to 20 participants.)

Learning Objectives

  1. To identify the purpose of the film and its impact on audience.
  2. To examine film as a literary and historical resource for the exploration of social, political, and economic forces shaping racial and cultural dynamics in the United States.
  3. To identify key higher educational and institutional features in the film.
  4. To identify scenes in the film that demonstrate racial and/or cultural tension and/or conflict.
  5. To explain the relational, organizational, or structural power dynamics associated with this tension and/or conflict. This explanation can be broadly related to time period or scene-specific.
  6. To consider peer-reviewed diversity research literature in the analysis of racial and/or cultural tension and/or conflict. Consideration could address observations of the film or epistemological realizations involving an acknowledgement of personal growth and self-development.
  7. To hypothesize how racial and/or cultural tension and/or conflict might be managed within the situational dilemma or within oneself.
  8. To construct strategies for managing racial and/or cultural conflict, tension, and awareness.

Instructor's Comment about Diversity and the Film

Diversity is a key concept guiding the development of policies and practice within colleges and universities in the United States. Diversity involves an awareness of racial and/or cultural influences that shape historical and societal trends. It can influence power and the establishment of social justice through the examination of various theoretical and conceptual lenses designed to enhance one's understanding and behavioral responses to racial and/or cultural conflict. Diversity should be considered a priority in professional learning in order to enable reflection on assumptions, actions, and outcomes in ways that promote learning about improving practice and developing and refining skills (St. John, 2009; Felder, St. John, Moore, Kline, Gentry, 2013). Something the Lord Made (2004) is a resource that demonstrates key diversity concepts within the context of professional situations of practice. The readings included in this plan could be formally incorporated into the lesson plan. For example, if the class session is geared towards building awareness, Milner's (2007) paper is recommended. There are several questions within this reading that facilitate thinking about self-awareness of race and culture. Some of these questions include:

  • What is my racial and cultural heritage? How do I know?
  • What do I believe about race and culture in society and education, and how do I attend to my own convictions and beliefs about race and culture in practice?
  • How do my convictions and beliefs relate to the convictions and be of the characters in the film?

Film Synopsis from the Johns Hopkins Medicine Website

HBO'S new film, Something The Lord Made, starring Alan Rickman, Mos Def, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kyra Sedgwick, and Charles Dutton, tells the moving story of an unusual partnership at The Johns Hopkins Hospital between one of the nation's pioneering surgeons, Alfred Blalock, and his young African American lab assistant, Vivien Thomas. Coming of age in different worlds, they nevertheless forged a poignant and sometimes stormy relationship to develop the so-called Blue Baby operation and usher in a golden age of heart surgery. The Blue Baby operation, which surgically corrected a congenital defect of the heart known as the Tetralogy of Fallot, broke the last barrier to operating directly on the heart, long considered taboo and an impossibility. (

Class Assignments and Activities

Instructor's Note: The film should be shown prior to class discussion and in the classroom space where the discussion will take place. It is important for students to critically observe the film (in its entirety without stopping) in a formal space in order to reinforce the idea that this activity is a learning experience for students. Prior to the film, students should be given questions for discussion which should be reviewed as a class, along with the intended learning outcomes. The following questions could be used to explore the systemic and organizational features in the film: What systemic and organizational barriers and structures shape the community and characters in the film? How do I know? (Milner, 2007).


  1. Identify at least one workplace racial/cultural norm** exhibited in the film. (It is anticipated that students in the class may identify with different norms.) In what ways are these norms actualized within the development of professional working relationships in the film? In what ways do they promote and/or retard the working relationship in the film? Write a one to two page single-spaced paper detailing your response.

    ** Cultural norms might be demonstrated via gender, family values, moral beliefs, or religion/spirituality.
  2. How might the example of a racial or cultural that you identified in the film be generalized to your professional experience working in higher education? Provide an explanation of a situational conflict in a one to two page single-spaced paper.
  3. Milner (2007) asserts that when dangers regarding racial and cultural norms are seen, unseen, and unforeseen, there is the potential for misrepresenting racial and cultural experiences in practice. In other words, if you, as someone responsible for developing policy, are not familiar with a racial or cultural experience, how do you know whether the policy is considerate of diverse perspectives/experiences? In what ways are Milner's assertions applicable to the workplace conflict in the film? Provide at least one example and write a one to two page single-spaced paper.
  4. Organizational conflict may ensue when community members intentionally or unintentionally violate rules within an established community of practice (St. John, 2009). In what ways did you identify forms of organizational conflict in the film? How does this conflict affect workplace dynamics in the film? Write a case statement sharing your reflections about this conflict (see St. John, 2009, pgs. 172-193) in a one to two page single-spaced paper. Or, complete either the following reflective exercise or the exercise on page 193 of St. John (2009), both of which focus on the type of racial and/or cultural tensions found in the film.


Reflective Activities

Reflective activities have been adapted from St John's (2009) professional learning model and Felder, St. John, Moore, Kline & Gentry's (2013) pedagogical strategies for professional learning in higher education graduate programs. Students should be encouraged to reflect on the following questions to explore the professional learning aim that enables reflection on assumptions, actions and outcomes. The act of reflection should promote learning about improving practice and developing and refining skills, along with reflection on the moral aspects of practice. Consider how these assumptions, actions, and outcomes may involve race and/or culture.


  1. What are the most problematic social situations you recall from your experiences in educational, professional, and community life?
  2. What were the most problematic social situations you recall from your experiences with racial and/or cultural issues?
  3. Did you take steps to intervene or were you silent? If you acted, what were the reactions of others in the situation? If you did not act, do you think that an intervention on your part might have changed the situation?
  4. Are there current circumstances that merit your attention and action? What are they? Do they involve racial and/or cultural challenges? How might you prepare yourself in addressing critical social problems as a professional in practice?

Students should be encouraged to share and respond to written exercises on a classroom media forum (i.e., Blackboard, Canvas, or Wiki) in order to facilitate discussion and peer feedback. It is recommended that students share their papers/observations during another class session.

Oxford African American Studies Center Resources

The following links provide useful historical and cultural context for the events depicted in Something the Lord Made:

Supplemental Resources

The Film:

Something the Lord Made. Sargent, J., Dir. (2004). [Video/DVD] New York, NY: HBO Video.

Exploring Diversity in Higher Education:

Anderson, J.D. (1988). The education of Blacks in the south, 1860-1935. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press.

Felder, P.P. (forthcoming, July 2013). Reflection in action: Exploring race and culture in critical reflective pedagogy. In, K. A. Kline (Ed.), Reflection in action: A guidebook for faculty and student affairs professionals.

Gasman, M., Anderson-Thompkins, S., & Haydel, N. (2006). Corridors and coffee shops: Teaching about race and research outside the classroom. Journal of College and University Teaching 17(1 & 2).

Harper, S.R. & Hurtado, S.H. (2007). Nine themes in campus racial climates and implications for institutional transformation. New Directions for Student Services, 120, 7-24.

Hurtado, S., Milem, J.F., Clayton-Pedersen, A.R., & Allen, W.R. (1998). Enhancing campus climates for racial/ethnic diversity: Educational policy and practice. Review of Higher Education, 21(3), 279-302.

Exploring diversity using historical and epistemological frames/questions:

Milner, H. R. (2007). Race, culture and researcher positionality: Working through dangers seen, unseen, and unforeseen. Educational Researcher, 36(7), 338-400.

Exploring diversity as a critical social/organizational challenge in professional learning:

Felder, P.P., St. John, E.P., Moore T.L., Kline, K., & Gentry, D. (2012). Professional learning in higher education graduate programs. Presentation, Association for the Study of Higher Education, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Felder, P.P., St. John, E.P., Moore, T.L., Kline, K. & Gentry, D. (manuscript in preparation). Professional learning in higher education graduate programs.

St. John, E.P. (2009). College organization and professional development: Integrating moral reasoning and reflective practice. New York: NY. Routledge. (Use of Chapter 8, "Critical Social Challenges," is recommended.)

Sue, D.W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. Hoboken: NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

Wise, T. (2011). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son. The remix: revised and updated edition. Berkeley: CA, Softskull Press.

Exploring the historical analysis of the film:

McCabe, Katie (1989). Like Something the Lord Made.