By Margaret Koss
On February 4, the Committee On Diversity Affairs (CODA) held the first in a series of discussions aimed at creating a safe space for education and awareness of dimensions of diversity in Sankofa house. The event had a much bigger turnout than expected by CODA members, indicating that these are the kinds of conversations a lot of Lawrentians want to be having.
Senior and CODA chair Brienne Colston said the idea for the forum initially came from wanting to collaborate with Sankofa.
“The house really fosters multi-culturalism and conversation surrounding identity and marginalization,” Colston said. “Since CODA is rooted in social justice, we decided it would be a great collaboration.” Members of CODA wanted all of campus to feel welcome coming to Sankofa—especially those who don’t know about what the house or committee does.
“We were hoping for participants who had never been to our events to walk away with either a new community or a new perspective,” sophomore International Relations Coordinator AJ Williams said. Williams started going to CODA meetings her freshman year “not only as an observer, but to listen and contribute to making campus a safe place for people of color by using my privilege as a platform for those who were not as supported as I was on a campus with an anglo-centric culture.”
CODA works to provide that support. It can be difficult for marginalized students to have a voice on campus—and that difficulty grows with a lack of understanding by others. So, CODA is addressing the problem head-on and providing an avenue for learning and gaining perspective.
“What we’re really hoping to do is to stop issues where they arise,” Colston said. “I think that having conversations like this in a room not only strengthens our own senses of self and our understanding, but it also gives us the ability to articulate things that we don’t like on campus that we normally wouldn’t have the language to do. A lot of people know when something is wrong, but they don’t know how to say it.”
The night’s topic, “Race and Racism in the Media,” centered on recognizing when and where racism occurs in the media and how to counteract it. The forum started with background on the issue and delved into examples from different forms of racism in TV and advertising, followed by discussion questions in smaller groups. The conversations allowed students to share their experiences, learn from the experiences of others, and learn how to combat racism day to day.
“CODA has and continues to challenge me in my allyship on campus and how to successfully engage and educate in conversations about racism, and in my mindset of race on campus and how important it is to embrace our differences of complexion and culture,” Williams said. CODA’s goal for the future is to provide these tactics to a broader spectrum of campus, not just those already involved.
“A lot of the problems we have come from the fact that people come because they kind of have an idea of what we’re doing. We really want to reach people who maybe don’t have an idea or who maybe have preconceived notions of the group. I think that involves coming to their circles and branching out,” Colston said.
Williams added, “I hope that individuals who have differing opinions join us at future events to constructively bring their opinions and concerns to the table. We all have something to learn from each other.”
And there will be plenty of opportunity for that in the near future. CODA is already planning the next few discussions and have a few topics lined up, including the Ebola scare and cultural appropriation in the music industry—so keep your eye on upcoming Facebook events.