October 17, 2018

Adelphi Creates a Safe Space for “Facing Racism”

by Choya Randolph, M.F.A. '18

Dr. Perry Greene

About a dozen people sat in the Ruth S. Harley University Center, Room 212. In front of them were plates of sandwiches and cookies. They all introduced themselves. Students, professors, faculty, members of the community. On a golden screen in big bright letters were the words “Facing Racism.” Beside the screen was Perry Greene, Ph.D., vice president for diversity and inclusion.

“I ask you all to leave your role at the door,” said Dr. Greene. “No voice in this room is better or bigger than anyone else’s.”

This was how the last session of the Fall 2018 “Facing Racism” dialogues began, as had those preceding it. According to Dr. Greene, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion launched the series of conversations last year in response to the rallies in Charlottesville and decided to hold them again each Friday this September. The goal, once again, he said, was to promote understanding by discussing topics ranging from racism in the media to the fear of talking about race to Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem.

“Sometimes the best way to unpack an issue is to listen to someone’s story,” said Dr. Greene.

A faculty member began the session by sharing a memory of reading a story in class that painted a black person as unintelligent. Holding back tears, she spoke of her classmates laughing at this character. “I wondered if that was how they saw me,” she said.

As the participants of different backgrounds shared their racial narratives, no one seemed uncomfortable. The dialogues dove into issues such as prison. Dr. Greene asked the audience what percentage of the prison population is black. One person said around 75 percent and another said 60 percent. A community member guessed 30 percent, which was the closest answer. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 38.1 percent of inmates are black.

“How many of you were surprised by that answer?” asked Dr. Greene. More than half the room raised their hands. This sparked a conversation about why people assumed there are more people of color in jail than there actually are. People spoke of police brutality and officers being called on black people while doing common activities: driving, napping, swimming, campaigning, barbecuing, sitting while black.

At the end of the session, Dr. Greene asked how everyone could take what was learned in the series to face racism. A faculty member mentioned that although the people who should be having these conversations never come to these events, everyone can take what they learned and inform others in the community.

“Mindful dialogue, even with those with whom we disagree, is strategy for reaching common ground on sensitive issues,” said Dr. Greene.

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