July 19, 2016

Talking Across Racial Lines

by Kurt Gottschalk


A diverse group of Adelphi University faculty, staff and students gathered in a meeting room in the Social Work Building on July 13, 2016, as part of an ongoing discussion on how issues of racial profiling and gun violence might be addressed by the University and across our country.

The monthly sessions have been called by School of Social Work Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Director of the M.S.W. Program Laura Quiros, Ph.D., and Student Affairs Coordinator Schanica Pickens primarily to address increasing tensions across the nation between police and minority groups.

Topics flowed freely during the open-agenda session, which began with a three-minute silent meditation. Participants discussed the need to create open forums among social workers in Nassau County and the importance of remembering that other people don’t know your experience, even if they’re familiar with the issues in the news.

The conversation wasn’t isolated to the ways stories of excessive force by police impact minority groups. The perceptions of white people were also discussed.

Attendees of color disclosed how they can feel judged by the white majority. Natasha Saini, a first-year M.S.W. student, said she could pinpoint 9/11 and the subsequent backlash against nonwhites as the point at which “race started mattering” to her. “Before 9/11, I didn’t realize I was brown,” she said.

Brian Leander, Ph.D., former assistant director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership and recently named Office of Human Resources manager of training and development, said he still feels conspicuous as an African American male. The other side of the racial coin was represented by Anthony Zenkus, a School of Social Work adjunct professor, who said, “When I get pulled over [by a police officer], my biggest fear is that I’ll get a ticket, and that’s not a privilege I realized I had.”

Dr. Leander and Zenkus reflected a general sentiment around the table that efforts at social change need to begin in the shared space, the Adelphi campus. Dr. Leander challenged the others in the room to ask themselves, “Have I done everything I can to make this space what I idealize?”

The difficulty in discussing recent racial tensions in America, according to Dr. Quiros, is compounded by the fact that there isn’t a solitary perspective being considered.

“There’s a lot of nuance and complexity in what’s happened,” she said, “but what isn’t complex is that people of color in this country have a very different experience.”

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