Southwestern Introduces Race and Ethnicity Symposium
By Amy Gu
Although Southwestern houses one of the country’s most diverse liberal arts communities, diversity groups on campus continue to shed even more light on racial justice. From January 20 to 21, the Race and Ethnicity (RES) minor, the Diversity Enrichment committee, the Americas: North by South Cluster, and the Office of Diversity Education hosted SU’s first Race and Ethnicity symposium in the Lynda Ballroom.
This interdisciplinary symposium, organized by junior Tori Vasquez and assistant professor of Philosophy Omar Rivera, spotlighted campus-members’ research on topics about racial and ethnic discrimination. The presentations spanned two sessions, each culminating in a question and answer session between audience members and the speakers.
“We wanted MLK week to showcase research in racial and ethnic discrimination from Southwestern professors and alumni,” said Rivera. “The event was conceived as a way of sharing with the university at large the kinds of discussions that are taking place in courses included in the RES minor.”
Rivera opened the symposium by introducing race and ethnicity studies as a means to dissolve barriers within global issues. He also encouraged the audience to speak with rather than about diverse individuals, especially at a uniquely diverse liberal arts school.
“Many universities are institutionally colorblind and either ignore race altogether or rely on external consultants to discuss ‘race issues’. Southwestern has taken a step in the right direction by providing the space to have this conversation and by allowing the conversation to be led by those who intimately know the campus,” said assistant professor of Sociology Dr. Reggie Byron.
Following the introduction, professors presented research that exemplified racial conversation. Part-time assistant professor of Sociology Melissa Quintela presented her past research on researchers and participants sharing racial identities. Assistant professor of English Carina Evans then introduced her current research on slave narratives in the Williamson County and studying past racism to counter current racism. Concluding the first portion of the symposium, assistant professor of Communication Studies Dustin Tamahkera discussed the “screening” (exposing and censoring) of Comanche culture in the Western films.
While the first portion of the symposium focused on ways to converse across races, the second exposed the dangers in avoiding racial conversation. Recent alumna Tara Leday presented her capstone project in which court members claiming not to hold racial prejudices in fact perpetuate racism in the justice system. Byron then presented data reflecting anti-black sentiments in housing and employment even decades after the removal of Jim Crow laws. Professor of Sociology Maria Lowe expounds upon similarly racist dissent in neighborhood emails in data that she and alumni Angela Stroud ’04 and Alice Nguyen ’14 have collected. Brenda Sendejo, assistant professor of Anthropology, concluded the symposium on a hopeful note by describing her research on interpersonal affective connection as a way to spiritually heal victims of social injustice.
“I think the informal yet rigorous kinds of discussions that took place during the symposium were quite unique,” said Rivera.
Even despite the symposium’s high attendance rate of roughly 100 attendees per day, Rivera encouraged attendees to suggest ways to improve existing conversations about race and ethnicity.
“I would like the talks to be more inclusive of other underrepresented groups in the U.S., such as Jewish Americans and Asian Americans, and, of course, many others,” said Rivera. “I would also like to have discussions of the intersections between race, ethnicity and economic diversity. There is so much more we could do, so I am looking forward to getting input from students and faculty about this.”
With the addition of the Race and Ethnicity symposium to SU’s MLK celebrations, Southwestern celebrates but also continues to develop progressive interdisciplinary discussions.