St. Mary’s students showed that they were unafraid, even eager to confront the challenging subject of race’s impact on our everyday lives at the inaugural interest meeting for the newly formed Racial Reconciliation Group.
The group, according to Assistant Professor of Philosophy Sybol Anderson, aligns well with a desire for increased dialogue on race that she and Björn Krondorfer, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the department, have wanted for a while. Although race discussions are not particularly new on campus, Anderson said that the overall discourse has thus far remained stagnant and that people ended up “walking away” from them with little having been done. The specific structure for the group did not exist, however, until Seniors Zac Cooke and Autumn Capers came to them with the plans to actually form the group.
The group aims to create a “very personal, very small, very interactive” environment to talk about “the issue of race, and what power it has, or lack thereof,” according to Capers. Cooke stressed that “[the group] is not a club or casual get together – people need to be able to commit.” As a result, the group is limited to 15 people, to be chosen in order to create a diverse discussion group consisting of representatives from multiple races and class years.
The group will host a total of six meetings, which will be held weekly starting Friday, Jan. 29 and will be facilitated by Krondorfer and Anderson. Meetings will be in the form of a round-table discussion in which students can explore how they view themselves and others through the lens of race. Cooke said that the group would intentionally not be in the form of a lecture or “just listening to a bunch of stats [on race].”
“It’s time we bring a different kind of learning experience to campus,” he added.
These meetings will ultimately culminate in a weekend retreat starting Friday, Feb. 19, during which students will be able to get away from campus and get to “the core” of the discussion, according to Cooke. An optional one-credit learning contract will also be available for students who participate.
The professors thought that a group that operates with such frankness and rigor may have sounded intimidating to some, but the crowded room showed otherwise. “I was worried there would be like five people here,” Krondorfer said. Instead, so many students turned out that the small meeting room (Campus Center 228) quickly turned into a standing-room-only affair. Students attended for a variety of reasons, from personal to academic. Sophomore Emily Saari, for example, said, “I was exposed to anti-oppression teachings over the summer and I wanted to continue trying out new experiences and discussions such as this.”
Both facilitators and students have great expectations for the future of this meeting, and plan to use it as a stepping-stone to future dialogue. Anderson said, “My hope is that once we’ve taken it to the deeper level…that that will let us keep going year to year.” The attendance, though, was itself a sign of a bright future for the group.
Cooke said, “It’s moving to see how many people came out today.” He added, “This has been amazing.”