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Addressing racial tension: dissecting the gray line in the system of racism

by Breonnah Colon - Copy Desk Chief
Tue, Feb 21st 2017 05:00 pm
Emma  Misiaszek/PHOTO EDITOR

The College at Brockport worked with the Opening Doors Project in order to host a series of conversations focused on the experience of racism.
Emma Misiaszek/PHOTO EDITOR The College at Brockport worked with the Opening Doors Project in order to host a series of conversations focused on the experience of racism.

The issue of race has been prevalent on The College at Brockport campus. This is not surprising given the current state of the United States and the increase in racial tension which has taken place over the past few years. 

In response to the current state of both the country and the college, Interim Chief Diversity Officer  Milo Obourn and Opening Door Diversity Project, a project affiliated with the college that works to advocate for inclusivity, have been working to host events throughout the school year that allow open discussion and offer knowledge on the issues of racism, diversity and acceptance for both students and faculty. 

The latest examples of this are the Facilitated Conversations on Racial Justice and Cross-Ranking Activism seminars which took place from February 13 through February 17. 

The week-long event focused on targeting different groups, allowing for a sense of openness amongst peers and like-minded individuals. 

In order to carry this out most effectively, discussions were separated, not only by whether or not people were students or faculty and staff, but also by whether or not someone was a person of color. 

While this notion initially raises eyebrows, this specific approach was taken so that participants would feel free to speak their minds and not feel pressured or limited in any way based on who they shared the room with while discussing an issue as impactful as racism. However, there was a point during which both people of color and white participants were able to meet and discuss the issue with one another.

In an email Obourn wrote, "the goals [were] to bring more awareness and attention to racial justice issues on campus from a broad range of perspectives." 

Obourn went on to explain that "separate groups allow for people to express themselves deeply and prepare for sharing to the larger group within the context of a framework that incorporates non-blaming language and gives a social context for the issues that individuals are navigating."

Following this idea, different groups met with each other at different times, but were asked the same sets of questions in order for facilitators to get diverse perspectives on the questions they asked. Questions such as "What's great about being a person of color?" as well as "What's challenging about being a person of color?" were asked to both groups that contained students of color and white students. 

Another topic of conversation for the students was the introduction of the dominator model, which served as a way to explain the hierarchy of societal status in relevance to one's race within the country. 

In order to further delve into this, students were asked to not only consider how their race impacts the amount of power they have in this country, but also other societal factors such as gender, sexuality and religion. 

This was done in order to get a more in-depth understanding that power in the United States can be based on many things, but race tends to play a very big role in overall distribution of power for people.

Senior Marcus Blythers attended the first session for students of color Monday, Feb. 13, and found the experience greatly impactful. After being told about the conversation by an administrator for the college's basketball team, which he plays on, Blythers participated because he considered the topic to be directly related to him as a student and a person of color as well.

"This is a different type of state we're in, like a different situation," Blythers said. "I wanted to be at the [forefront] of [the discussion]. This is something that's going to affect my children some day."

Blythers explained he is part of an interracial relationship and feels the current state of the country could have severely negative impacts on how his relationship is viewed by society, which troubles him. 

He understands that the challenges he currently faces and will continue to face in the future are all part of the racial tension in the U.S. 

As a result, Blythers appreciated the fact that the conversations were held by individuals who were of color.

"I love that it was a diverse group of people," Blythers said. "I feel like I learned so much, it was refreshing."

Blythers was one of several students who attended the facilitated conversations with the intention of speaking on behalf of his community and hearing the perspectives of others. While parcipants know the conversation is nowhere near done, it is extremely important that it has been started.

The fact that students are being offered the opportunity to speak on their experiences dealing with and facing racism is not just impactful, but also important because it helps to take away from the social stigma that such a topic of conversation is too uncomfortable to speak about and as a result shouldn't be. Not speaking on the issue doesn't make it go away, as society is learning the hard way. 

Blythers and many other students of color like him have been the victim of countless racist encounters, where they are treated as lesser than or as an alien. Such situations can lead to students feeling targeted and isolated. 

Keeping silent on these issues allows for such instances to not only continue to take place, but to take place in a manner where there are no consequences for those harassing and mistreating students of color.

Brockport is focused on giving each of its students a positive and fruitful college experience. In order for that to happen students of color must feel they belong on campus and by further extent, in society.



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Taken by Mathieu Starke, staff photographer

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