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Discussion series on racism draws strong response from campus community
Discussion series on racism draws strong response from campus communityJanuary 27, 2003Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
In his book “Dismantling Racism: The Continuing Challenge to White America” (Augsburg Press, 1991), Joseph Barndt writes of how racism permeates not only individual attitudes, but institutions, systems and culture as a whole.
Barndt’s words struck a chord with Cynthia N. Fulford, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Fulford worked in the corporate sector before joining SU and has become very familiar with existing diversity training programs. She believes those types of programs are good, but represent only small steps towards racial justice in a multiracial and multicultural society.
“Why, after years of diversity training in our society, have we not progressed?” Fulford asks. “Diversity training addresses attitudes, but the problem is still in what we continue to allow to exist. We need to look at the policies and practices, structures and foundations of our institutions and systems.”
Fulford received a 2002 Chancellor’s Feinstone Grant for Multicultural Initiatives to develop a project aimed at heightening participants’ awareness of oppressive systems, providing a framework to understand and discuss these systems and empowering them to confront racism. The project kicks off Jan. 29 with the first segment of the Diversity Brown Bag Discussion Series on the book “Dismantling Racism.” The session, which is open to faculty, staff and students, will run from noon-1:30 p.m. in The Underground of the Schine Student Center.
Subsequent sessions will be held on Feb. 12, Feb. 19 and March 5. Participants are required to read “Dismantling Racism,” and the first 45 minutes of each session will be dedicated to discussing themes and points from the book. The latter half of each session will be opened up for general discussion and will address issues such as difference, prejudice, racism and internalized racism. The series is co-sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and is consistent with priorities identified in both the Division of Student Affairs’ 2001-06 Strategic Plan and the University’s Academic Plan.
“There has been a strong response to the invitation to participate in these workshops and to learn more about the roles students, faculty and staff can play in building an inclusive, supportive and welcoming environment here at Syracuse University,” says Barry L. Wells, senior vice president and dean of student affairs. “That the interest level in this series has been so high suggests to us the sessions will yield honest and candid conversations that we hope will make a positive impact on campus life.”
Fulford agrees that there has been a great response to the series, with 50 people already registered for the sessions. She expects rich discussions to result.
“Any time we talk about race, there is a certain level of pain and fear-pain on the side of those who have been victimized at one time or another and fear on the side of those who have often been the beneficiaries of privilege in our society,” she says. “My hope is that the participants can articulate those feelings, and that there can be open and honest communication. We can’t build a community if people don’t talk to each other.”
During the Feb. 19 session, participants will view clips of Spike Lee’s film, “Bamboozled.” The film highlights the impact that systematic oppression has on the individual emotional psyche.
The series will culminate with an April 10 visit to campus by Barndt, an ordained minister and former executive director of the Chicago-based Crossroads Ministry, an interfaith and community-based anti-racism training organization. Barndt will conduct a workshop entitled “Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism,” that will be open to the University and invited community guests. There will also be a reception and book signing that evening.
Those wishing to be part of the discussion group must register by contacting Fulford at firstname.lastname@example.org; registration for the April workshop will begin in March.