By Joe Arruda
“Lets talk about race.”
A topic so prominent in today’s culture, yet one that is frequently avoided. But why?
The Springfield College Racial and Ethics Working Group did their part by hosting a “How to Talk About Race” event on Monday evening. The event focused on the uncomfortable nature of the conversation.
Students and faculty of a mix of different races gathered in the Campus Union to acknowledge the issues surrounding the topic. They brainstormed ways to engage in a conversation necessary in dousing societal inequities. Through videos and group conversations, the ice was broken, and race was talked about.
Dr. Stephanie Logan, Chair of the Department of Education, said, “When many people embark on a journey to do some changes for their health, at first it’s not comfortable, but we have a goal in mind. So if it is to live in an anti-racist society, the conversations have to get uncomfortable.”
While videos of police brutality circulate the internet, and politicians often defend themselves against allegations of their own acts of racism, those gathered in the Union could all agree on one idea: the uncomfortable desperately needs to become comfortable.
Springfield College faculty expressed the idea that if there is no conversation, nothing will be done. Students emphasized that videos of white police officers brutally beating minorities are becoming the norm. Yet people are scared to address the issue, so they keep scrolling.
Logan asked groups of students, which were composed of a variety of racial identities, to engage in conversation about why people are scared and how they are uncomfortable with the topic. Ideas such as being “afraid to offend people,” “afraid to use the wrong terminology,” and “to be politically correct” were all written on a paper in the front of the room.
These are the problems that circulate in the heads of the majority of people when this topic arises, or situations when it should come up, but doesn’t. In order to create change, one must engage and acknowledge other points of view.
“We’re all human, and that’s correct. We are all human beings, we’re all homo sapiens, that’s true. However, as homo sapiens, we do experience this world differently,” said Logan. “So while we know that that’s the truth, and that’s the goal – for us all to be treated equally. But we have to have a conversation of why it is we’re not there.”
With advancements in technology and the ability to uncover and relay information, many believe ignorance regarding issues of racism is not an excuse. There are frequent headlines about politicians who may have said or done something racist in their past. Yet, these are immediately covered up and avoided, labelled as politically motivated and fake news.
The reality is that racial inequities change the way entire groups of people live their life beginning at a young age. A student emphasized that because of race culture, the individual and their young family members are unable to walk around the neighborhood in which they live. They are not able to act as the majority of kids can. This student even recalled being taught not to play with water guns, in fear that they will be shot.
A recent instance involving racism and a politician, includes an image in the medical school yearbook of Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam. The image shows one person dressed in blackface, and the other in the signature Ku Klux Klan hooded robe.
While his support dwindles, the choice of whether he resigns or remains in his position is his own. Though, he has stated that his decision is not to resign.
A common trend as a reaction to these controversial topics is people caring initially, but once their voice isn’t heard, they stop. Then, the problem fades away until an identical situation presents itself again.
The conversation that Springfield College had on Monday night is one that has become less common, in comparison to sports or the latest gossip. As Black History Month begins, it was reiterated that it is important for people of all racial identities to join the conversation, and not just during the month of February.
Logan and the other members of the Springfield College Racial and Ethics Working Group discussed different ways to engage in a meaningful and progressive discussion. Students expressed ideas such as, “asking questions,” “doing research,” and “keeping an open mind” to help generate a genuine dialogue that is inclusive of the ideas and experiences of others.
“One barrier that’s really important to recognize is that for white people, it’s really easy not to talk about race,” said Allison Gagne, Assistant Director of Housing and Residence Life. “We [those who identify as caucasian] don’t experience it the same way that people of color experience it, so that can make it very difficult to talk about it.”
Leaders of the discussion emphasized the fact that everyone wants the conversation to flow smoothly, and for everyone to agree with them, but that’s not the reality. If it were the case, there would be no issue of racism.
Logan added, “Some people believe that when we talk about race and racism, it needs to be a cute kumbaya experience. For some people, it is not a kumbaya experience. Being angry, sad, overwhelmed, frustrated, are natural emotions. All of our emotions are okay, and people bring all of their emotions to conversations about race.”
Springfield College, being a predominately white campus, is taking steps in the right direction with programs like this one. Encouraging conversation among people of different races is a necessary key to change.
To learn about more resources on campus, visit the Office of Multicultural Affairs or the Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement.