Last Friday, Feb. 1, a campus-wide forum on race and diversity was held in the Warch Campus Center. The event was opened with a presentation by junior Shea Love, Professor Helen Boyd Kramer, Professor Jerald Podair and Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Affairs Pa Lee Moua. The event was organized around layers of discussion circles, with the participants in the innermost circle directly responding to questions and the discussion was moderated by Professor Jake Frederick and Professor Rosa Tapia. The chairs in the center circle were open to all, and rotated after each round. Students were not forced to participate in this way, but were welcome to.
This event was well attended, but our view is that the audience was comprised largely of self-selected individuals who were already interested in the discussion. However, we also believe the point of the forum was that this discussion of race is one that everyone on campus can benefit from-especially those who think they don’t “need” it. The incorporation of Cornel West’s “Race Matters” was a timely addition to the Freshman Studies syllabus, and clearly contributed to this campus dialogue.
Perhaps the most interesting and valuable part of the forum was the personal stories of current students-stories that were eye opening to many. We do need to remind ourselves that our community isn’t as perfect or free from racism as we’d like to believe. Even within the Lawrence community, a fairly progressive and open space, we need to be conscious of our actions and assumptions regarding race.
We at The Lawrentian are concerned that the forum perhaps didn’t facilitate an in-depth discussion, in that attendees were not invited to respond to others’ comments after each round and that, when attempted, responses were discouraged. While we understand that this was to ensure the safety of participants, we feel the exclusion of discussion failed to allow for real progress. We agree with the students who, at the end of the event, described it as a “beginning,” or “prelude” to a larger discussion.
We atThe Lawrentian understand why the forum was organized in the way it was, but events like this in the future could possibly be more open and productive, striking a better balance between the necessary structure but also the freedom to let discussion develop organically.