Students, faculty and administrators at John Brown University have spent weeks thinking about how to have productive conversations about race.
It started with six words. “’Imago Dei’ applies to all colors,” Abby Chestnut wrote.
This Monday marked the end of the Race Card Project, an international movement to start conversations about race. The event ended with a talkback session hosted by Associate Professor of history Trisha Posey’s Slavery and Race in American History class.
Michele Norris, who hosted the National Public Radio Program “All Things Considered,” founded The Race Card Project. Norris distributed cards in which people could write only six words on whatever they associated with race. More than 100 people from JBU submitted their six words.
Students submitted race cards in Walker Student Center last week.
“The Race Card Project explores a different kind of conversation about race,” said Marquita Smith, head of the Department of Communication. “Now, the JBU community will be among thousands of people who shared their six-word stories in an effort to find civil, honest ways to discuss race relations or perspectives.”
Smith, along with Trisha Posey, moderated the discussion. Posey’s students in the Slavery and Race class hosted the event and several of Smith’s Communication students attended. Students returning from the Chicago Immersion trip over fall break also participated.
“The trip really opened me up to how big a problem racism is,” said sophomore Salina Adolph. She came to the talkback to discuss racism further.
About 45 students attended.
Posey asked students to examine their struggles and experiences in past conversations about race, and to share their fears and hopes in future conversations.
Many students spoke of fears of being misunderstood, of failing to see where boundaries lie, and of disempowering or feeling disempowered. Students openly discussed such controversial subjects as white guilt, Affirmative Action programs and stereotypes.
Posey encouraged students to be as open as possible with each other.
“One of the best ways you can show you’re listening is by asking questions,” she said.
The talkback didn’t just end with discussion, however.
“Each of you can leave here with something tangible that you can do different,” said Smith. She and Posey encouraged students to write down both personal goals and requests for the staff and faculty.
The requests will be reviewed by Smith and Posey and brought up for discussion in future talks on race and diversity in the University.
“We’re taking them very seriously,” Smith said.
“It was really awesome to get out and to talk about this,” said sophomore Justin Kirkpatrick.
Many students expressed a similar sense of satisfaction, as well as a new direction and purpose.
“It’s good to know how to approach and reconcile with others,” said senior Obed Diaz.