Issues of privilege and race-based inequality were brought to the forefront last Friday during “Diversity University: Moving From Theory to Practice.” The event was in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day and Black History Month, and it encouraged students to be involved in social and racial justice.
“The ultimate goal of [MLK] Day was to continue to engage the campus in a larger discussion and interrogation about how…by being on this campus and living within our larger society, we are all part of oppressive structures,” Chair of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Committee for Inclusion and Diversity (CID) Christian Hosam ’15 wrote in an email to The Argus. “The workshops, then, were designed to give insight into how to be intentional about working against those structures.”
Four workshops facilitated by University professors and administrators were followed by a keynote address by Dr. Shakti Butler. The day was split into two session blocks; students chose one workshop to attend for each of the two-hour periods.
“Students signed up for the workshops they wanted online before the day started,” Julia Clemens ’16 said. “The workshops were all held in Usdan University Center, PAC, or Fayerweather.”
The workshops available were “Cracking the Code: The System of Racial Inequity,” “Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible,” “Exploring Privilege by Examining Socialization,” and “Inside-Out & Outside-In: A Creative Identity & Ally Workshop.” The former two workshops included film screenings.
“The films were Dr. Butler’s creations and truly approach social justice from a personal experience perspective,” said aDirector of Student Activities and Leadership Development Elisa Del Valle Cardona.
The workshops that did not include short film screenings focused on dialogue, debate, and hands-on-activities and games.
“The other two workshops were discussion and activity based sessions,” Jalen Alexander ’14 wrote in an email to The Argus. “One focused on exploring privilege and the other [on] examining social perception and the cycle of liberation, led by members of the Wesleyan community in various capacities. All of the workshops were oriented to [increase] social justice skills and awareness to the faculty, staff, and students in attendance.”
Overall, students reacted positively to the Diversity University activities and were grateful to be given the opportunity to attend and to engage in the movement for social justice.
“[I] went to the ‘Making Whiteness Visible’ workshop with Professors Sarah Mahurin and Lois Brown, and ‘Creative Ally-ship’ with Elisa Cardona and Joanne Rafferty,” Hosam wrote. “They were both excellent, the first in particular because it really allowed for a leveled space in which students, faculty, and staff were able to share their personal experiences with racism and, more specifically, why having racial dialogue is just so hard.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Shakti Butler’s speech inspired students to take action to promote racial equality. A producer and director who promotes social justice in the media, she is also the Creative Director and Founder of World Trust, a group dedicated to spreading social equality through film.
“Dr. Shakti Butler was really motivating,” Clemens said. “She was charismatic and appealed to us as students and members of an evolving social element. I will definitely try to be more understanding, accepting, and tolerant because of her encouragement.”
The workshops were mainly organized by a group of administrators; Alexander was the only student on the MLK Day Planning Committee.
“I am personally looking forward to continuing the push for compassionate commitment to diversity and inclusion in our community” Alexander wrote.
While many students attended the activities, these students represented a small percentage of the University’s total student population. Many people felt that students were not encouraged to participate as much as they should have been.
“There were some students who assisted in the planning, and many students took advantage of the opportunity but in my opinion not nearly enough of our community was engaged,” Cardona said.
Some members of the community felt there was a lack of interest among other groups as well.
“One thing that I feel is worth noting is the lack of faculty participation,” Hosam wrote. “While there were two moderators of the workshops, those were really the only ones that participated. I think that there does need to be an uptick in the level of faculty participation and support going forward for this to be a truly community-wide effort.”
Some professors inspired their students to go, however, either through encouragement or by requiring it for class. Additionally, many of the students who were present at the event had previously been involved in campus activism.
“The educational process of social justice is not about arriving at a destination, but about the journey in life to create change,” Cardona said. “Some people revisited that journey today, while others were just beginning, and we are grateful to all the people who brought their whole selves to the day and truly made it meaningful.”
Students and administrators who attended called for more organized activities dedicated to increasing awareness of social issues. Attendees encouraged others to integrate the fight for social justice into their lives and values.
“Many members of the Wesleyan community are dedicated to moving from the theory of social justice and racial equality to a true practice in their everyday lives” Alexander wrote. “We cannot let this day be the end of the discussion, but a catalyst for more discussions, both large and small, to emerge.”