A dialogue on race provides food for thought

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The event, titled “Race and Community Dialogue Discussion,” was part of a series made to create a space for the UConn community to develop skills and foster dialogue on race and diversity. Photo by fauxels from Pexels.

The Democracy and Dialogues Initiative and the Dodd Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut held an event on Zoom last night to discuss race in the UConn community.  

The event, titled “Race and Community Dialogue Discussion,” was part of a series made to create a space for the UConn community to develop skills and foster dialogue on race and diversity. This event was the fourth of the series, which began in November 2019. 

Brandon Kane, the director of the Democracy and Dialogue Initiative program, said the program began in response to concerns of racism in the UConn community. The catalyst was the March for Solidarity that took place on the Storrs campus on Nov. 19, 2019.  

Much of the event took place in smaller breakout rooms, where participants answered guiding questions.  

Scenarios were provided to the participants and they were asked to identify which scenario resonated with them the most, explain the reasons behind the behaviors in the scenarios, and share if there were any personal experiences that made it stand out.  

Jonelle Reynolds, the director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, chose a scenario in which a white couple crossed the street upon seeing a group of Black men approaching. Reynolds shared that she sympathized with feeling uncomfortable passing groups of men on the street due to negative experiences women have with catcalling from groups of men on the street. However, she said a negative perception of Black men would not excuse the couple’s actions.   

Reynolds said, “A lot of my stereotypes came from American TV that I consumed largely back home, so I can see that playing a part in stereotypes being reinforced and dictating how we see ourselves and see other people and usually in the media, we see the worst of minority groups.” 

“Whether or not you do it consciously or not, it’s there,”

“Whether or not you do it consciously or not, it’s there,” Reynolds said of the implicit bias.  

The breakout discussions concluded with the participants sharing their opinions on barriers the UConn community faces and potential action the university can take to eliminate them.  

“They have the job of saying what they do and don’t stand for at the university,” Alexa Fritas, an undergraduate student, said of the UConn administration. Fritas said she believed that the administration should sponsor events like this in order to encourage more conversation around diversity as well as making information available to students on where to get support.  

The groups collectively agreed that a lack of diversity in the faculty was a barrier. For example, Megan Villanova, a graduate student at the UConn School of Social Work, expressed her shock at never having had a sociology professor who was not White, despite the field concerning issues of race. 

A suggested solution was increased funding and scholarships promoting diversity at UConn. The group agreed the temporary cessation of the Connecticut Commitment at UConn was a major step backward. 

The Connecticut Commitment initiative was a program to provide scholarships to low-income students. However, amidst budget cuts, President Thomas Katsouleas announced the University would be temporarily discontinuing the program.  

The other potential steps included having consistent exit interviews and updating class curricula. A noteworthy idea was to redirect university funds to have conferences and other events to engage students in conversations about race, possibly involving the cultural centers.  

These solutions will be collated and shared with the Office of Institutional Equity and the president’s office, according to Kane. The Democracy and Dialogues Initiative will be holding another discussion on Nov. 19 at 6 p.m.  

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