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Let's Talk About Race

Project Overview

A series of guided conversations to equip participants with vocabulary and context for understanding and discussing racial dynamics in the United States.

Identifying the Problem

In the United States, it is quite common for both people of color and white people to feel uncomfortable talking about race and racism. For many, it is the fear of not knowing which specific words to use, saying something wrong or unintentionally hurting someone. This fear can be paralyzing, and prevents people from actually engaging the issue and learning more about racial dynamics in the United States. Clara wanted to address the fear and uncertainty preventing this dialogue by creating an educational activity that would make participants feel more comfortable having conversations about race and racism.

Creating A Solution

Clara decided to organize a series of workshops to address the difficulty of discussing race. The purpose of the project was to identify a series of words, phrases and ideas that are essential for having effective conversations about race in the United States. The project then provided safe, guided, group settings for participants to practice using these new words, phrases and ideas.

Clara partnered with the Diversity Committee at Wheaton College, which helped plan the logistical aspects of the project (advertising and providing food to participants) while she developed the curriculum. In developing the substance of the workshops, Clara drew on her own college education as well as the many books she had read that address racial education.

Let’s Talk About Race involved three workshops over a two-week period. The first two sessions, lasting an hour and a half each, were advertised by word of mouth and an email sent to specific student leaders on Wheaton College's campus. About 15 students attended each event, which allowed for a more intimate environment in which to feel more comfortable discussing race. The third session lasted two and a half hours and was attended by 60-70 people, including students and several faculty members. This final session was advertised by posters around campus, a campus-wide email and word of mouth.

The workshops were attended by a wide range of students. Some came because they were already knowledgeable and invested in the conversations about race in the United States, so they came in with plenty of comfort and experience discussing these issues. However, a majority of those who attended were not familiar with these conversations or issues, and were encouraged to attend by their professors. Due to the diversity among participants, Clara decided to spend a substantial amount of time addressing basic definitions and working through stories and examples to help participants begin to see the realities of race that occur in their everyday lives. 

Clara’s project was a huge success, and several participants requested a follow-up session to continue the conversations. Many students expressed that they had never heard these topics addressed so clearly and that they want to keep talking about them. “I think most students who attended come from communities where race isn't explicitly talked about, yet it affects their lives,” says Clara. “So, when given the chance to talk about it openly and honestly, in a space where they can ask questions and not be defensive, many students wanted to keep talking.” 

Several students asked for another opportunity to specifically address "white responsibility" versus "white guilt." Clara is working to develop a loose curriculum that the Diversity Committee could use in the future to provide such a session for students.

Lessons Learned

Clara had to decide whether she wanted to organize a series of shorter workshops or a single workshop that would last an entire afternoon. She ultimately determined that offering three sessions would allow more students to attend. While Clara believes that the smaller sessions were effective and manageable for the organizers and the participants, she would eventually like to create a larger workshop that has more continuity for participants.  Additionally, she wishes she had found a way to reach further than her campus, in order to make the event appealing and available to the surrounding community and nearby universities.

Funding

The expenses associated with this project included $5 for printing posters to advertise the event and $50 for food for the participants. These costs were covered by the student group that partnered with Clara on the project.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Poland Poland 2013

Developed by:

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