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Can we talk about race? Series seeks to spark dialogue on racism and other differences

Clinton Mitchell teaches an ethics class on Monday, April 2, 2012, at Miami Carol City Senior High, in Miami, Florida, where Trayvon Martin once attended school. The day’s lesson used Martin’s shooting as a case study.

The only way to eliminate racism and prejudices is to create dialogue in the community, according to Karen Roth.

Throughout spring term, faculty and staff will be facilitating a series of conversations designed to spark dialogue about race and other differences.

This is the fourth year that Central Oregon Community College will be hosting Campus Conversations: Can we talk about race and other differences.
This series first started in 2009 when faculty received the results from a survey of student engagement on campus, according to Roth, Multicultural Activities director at COCC.

“One of the questions students were asked,” Roth said, “was if they had the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue about race and other differences.”

COCC results were average compared to the other participating colleges and Roth felt it would be beneficial to encourage this dialogue on campus.

“I thought that in addition to how students might get to learn about racism and other differences in their classes,” Roth explained, “we could do something that would support that here in the Multicultural Center.”

The conversations are not meant to be presentations by faculty and staff, but are designed to open up a discussion, so participants can have the experience in talking about these topics, according to Roth. Every year the series has different topics, and the spring 2013 series was the first time women’s rights and equality have been part of the discussion.

“We have had presentations previously that have talked about socioeconomic class differences,” Roth explained, “but none specifically focusing on women.”

Taran Underdal, student life coordinator at COCC, co-facilitated the April 17 discussion on Income Inequality and the Need for Change.

“Of all the biggest inequities in income differences, racial minorities have the greatest disparity,” Underdal explained. “Then of that minority, females have an even greater income disparity.”

Another highlight is a facilitated discussion on May 7 about the film ‘Girl Rising,’ according to Roth.

“This film was recently shown in Bend to a sellout crowd,” Roth said. “A lot of folks weren’t able to get in to see it, so we are hoping that this provides another venue for people to come see and discuss the film.”

Roth believes the series encourages dialogue on campus as well as in the community.

“I’ve heard about students who’ve taken some info here and taken it to their classes or family, Roth said. “That is fabulous because we want the ripple effect of the dialogue about racism, prejudice and stereotypes to continue.”

For Roth, the inspiration to continue this series came in part from a James Baldwin quote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“If we don’t talk about racism and prejudices,” Roth explained, “and learn from each other about the ways they’re still manifesting in our society, then we’re not going to know what it takes to face it and change it.”

–Molly Svendsen

The Broadside

(Contact: msvendsen@cocc.edu)

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