Lawrence’s newest faculty group, Racism Ends At Lawrence (REAL), has been working toward its goal of making Lawrence a more anti-racist institution and supporting students and faculty of color though regular demonstrations on campus since its official formation in early October.
The idea of REAL started in Spring Term 2021 when Assistant Professor of Music Ann Ellsworth, Associate Professor of Musicology Sonja Downing and Associate Professor and Co-director of Choral Studies Steve Sieck felt the need to advocate for anti-racism at Lawrence. According to Ellsworth, institutional change can take time to happen and often isn’t visible to students, and the group wanted to get the cause for anti-racism started sooner.
So far, REAL’s focus has been to make their presence on campus known and to show up however they can, said Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Connie Kassor. Members of REAL have been at Warch Campus Center the past few Sundays with signs. According to Ellsworth, the message they want to share is that they care about Lawrence’s students of color and don’t tolerate racism. Ellsworth hopes these demonstrations let the community know REAL is here and listening and REAL’s members are allies ready to work on dismantling racism at Lawrence.
REAL also organized a demonstration on Sep. 19 in response to a recent event where people in passing vehicles on College Avenue yelled racial slurs at Lawrence students. Ellsworth said REAL demonstrated because they wanted to show their support for students and show the community that Lawrence’s faculty won’t stand for racist behavior.
Lawrence is a predominantly white institution (PWI) with a predominantly white faculty, with a 59.4 percent white student population and 77 percent white faculty population as of 2020, according to data available on the Lawrence website. Lawrence’s BIPOC faculty often unofficially advise BIPOC students who are struggling with being at a PWI, according to Beth De Stasio, Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science and Professor of Biology. REAL wants be an ally in those instances to help advise and support students. De Stasio said the group maintains a growth mindset, constantly learning and re-learning how to be better anti-racist allies.
“Some of us have heard from students of color that they don’t often know who they can turn to, or who has their backs, or who can support them,” Kassor said. “[…] Part of [why we formed REAL was asking] ‘what can we actually do right now that’s concrete, that shows that we care about our students of color.’”
REAL’s work will be student-centered and student-driven, according to Ellsworth, focusing on what Lawrence students need and want, partially gauged through student polls from their Instagram account (@practiceantiracismtoday). REAL wants to make themselves available in whatever ways are helpful to students, whether that’s amplifying students’ messages or backing actions students are pursuing.
Starting Friday, Oct. 29, Ellsworth will sit in on the Committee on Diversity Affairs’ (CODA) meetings in order to keep an ear out for what students’ needs are and how REAL can help. According to sophomore Wynter Burns, Interim Co-Chair of CODA, CODA initially approached REAL because their values of anti-racism align.
CODA hopes REAL will give them a solid voice of support that will help CODA’s proposals be taken more seriously by Lawrence administration, said Burns. Burns also said she appreciates that the REAL faculty recognize their privilege and hopes they help bring in more BIPOC faculty and staff to create more diversity at Lawrence. REAL lists hiring more non-white faculty as one of their action points on their website.
“I think it’s good that they are making sure that what they’re saying is true to what BIPOC people are going through, and not making assumptions,” Burns said. “It’s a good place for BIPOC […] faculty to be involved but not make it only their fight, get white people involved.”
In the future, REAL hopes to end racism at Lawrence, according to De Stasio, but that’s a goal they recognize could take quite a while due to all the steps and work involved. For now, they’re focused on smaller steps to get anti-racist policies in place.
Currently, De Stasio said, REAL is exploring the possibility of anti-racist training for faculty and plans to aim the training at things students find problematic at Lawrence based on student input REAL receives. REAL also plans to work with the incoming Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Eric Mayes, on the potential design, according to Ellsworth.
REAL has listed three further action points on their website in addition to the anti-racism training: holding faculty accountable for their behavior, hiring more non-white faculty, and the appointment of an official advocate to assist in Lawrence’s bias reporting system.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Kassor said. “[…] We’re all just coming together because we want to make Lawrence an anti-racist place. […] We’re also mostly a bunch of white faculty, and if and when we do things that don’t work, or are ineffective, or are detrimental, we want to know.”