Race forum invites faculty and students in fishbowl discussion

Alyssa Villaire

In what one person described as a “prologue” to more discussion about racism on campus, Lawrence University saw its first forum on race take place last Friday, Feb. 1 in the Warch Campus Center.

The forum was sponsored by the Committee on Diversity Affairs, an organization devoted to spreading awareness and appreciation for diversity at Lawrence. It was a response to a recent controversy on campus, which included the use of language that some students found offensive in an online description of a party called “Gangster’s Paradise,” which was to be hosted by Delta Tau Delta.

Junior and CODA chair Shea Love said that this incident “sparked enough interest and emotion surrounding the issue of race on campus that has been build up over time-like small things that had happened [and had] gone under the radar-and that culminated in a display of action.”

While the main event was a fishbowl-style discussion about race, the forum also included opening remarks by Lecturer of Gender and Freshmen Studies Helen Boyd Kramer and Associate Professor of History and Robert S. French Professor of American Studies Jerald Podair.

Boyd Kramer, the author of multiple books and articles on gender and gender discrimination, spoke on the subject of being an ally to a community that one may not necessarily be part of and how everyone should be willing to “shut up and listen” in order to learn more about these other communities.

“This is never an easy conversation, and that is the first thing that I want to remind all of us who have white privilege in the room,” Boyd Kramer said, speaking to an audience of about 70 students, staff and faculty. “There should be some expectation that we talk in an honest way so that we can actually get to something as opposed to just repeating and rehashing all of the niceties.”

Podair shared a brief history of Martin Luther King’s philosophy behind race and civil rights, focusing on the Greek term agape, which King believed was “a form of unselfish and unconditional love for others, even others who may have hurt you.”

The forum was made up of questions written and submitted by those in attendance at the forum. Moderators-Associate Professor of Spanish and chair of the Spanish department Rosa Tapia and Associate Professor of History Jake Frederick-chose students to ask the group.

The questions ranged in topic, from whether or not students had discussions about race outside the classroom, how Caucasian people can keep from being affected by “white privilege,” and addressing the interplay between integration and cultural appreciation.

“I’m really glad to see that this is happening, and I’m really impressed by the students that are making it happen,” said Frederick. “It’s one thing for faculty or staff to say that there’s an issue we have to deal with, but it’s something else entirely if it’s coming from the student body. You can legislate what people are allowed to do from the top down, but it’s very difficult to make them believe that from the top down.”

The forum was confidential, so that those who spoke could do so honestly. While there were some clashes of opinion during the forum, junior Zachary Bartylla said that he believes the overall conversation was “quite safe.”

But Bartylla was also struck, he said, by “[the acknowledgement that] the administrative practices at the school and possibly the enrollment practices of the school” were affected by racial issues.

For freshman Vanessa Cattleman, who grew up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona in which the Navajos represent about 95 percent of the total population, the forum was a learning experience for her.

“Coming here and actually experiencing the racial issues that go on… I’ve never experienced that,” said Cattleman. “I liked [the forum], and I really do hope that they hold more events like this.”

Love said that there definitely will be more events, and this forum was just a starting point.

“The biggest thing for people to realize,” said Love, “is that this does affect everybody…To not care [about racism on campus] would be to not care about your own place at Lawrence and your own place in our environment.”