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Conversations on Race

A campus forum during the 'Get Woke Stay Woke' festival dissects the difficulties in discussing race.

Brian Delgado

Brian Delgado

Marcela Valdivia, Staff Reporter

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Last Tuesday at the UniversityStudent Union Theatre, a prerecorded video introduced Columbia University Professor, Derald Wing Sue, whose recent work, “Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race”, captured the theme of the evening–race dialogue. This was part of the “Get Woke Stay Woke” festival organized by the Cross Cultural Centers.

As professor of Psychology and Education at the Teachers College, Columbia University, Sue coined the term “microaggressions” to illustrate the effect that race talk has in various discussions and environments. “Early childhood memories of being teased due to his ethnicity led to the fascination of human behavior,” said Frederick Smith, Director of the Cross Cultural Centers (CCC). “His deep interest and passion led him to become one of the prominent voices in Cross Cultural Studies.”

Sue emphasized the difficulties for people to discuss race without others getting upset.

“The problem is that people do not have racial dialogues, but racial monologues. People state their positions and stick to their position without making a connection to other possible ideas,” said Sue.

Sue conducted a series of studies on race dialogue among white students, students of color, white faculty, and faculty of color. The studies concluded that the difficult dialogues about race in the classroom were all triggered by the three forms of microaggression. From this, Sue found that students and faculty of color tended to identify the trigger, whereas white students and faculty had only sensed tension.

“Our studies indicate that almost all difficult dialogues on race are triggered by the racial microaggressions. The problem is the perpetrator, the person delivering it,” said Sue.

Sue argues that improper, ineffective dialogue does the opposite of what is intended in race talks.

“Race talk involves dialogues and conversations about race that touch upon topics of racism, whiteness, and white privilege,” said Sue.

Public Health student, Nyehla Irsheid, had a similar experience with a Latinx faculty member who shut a conversation down. Nyehla wanted to challenge the classroom, but felt powerless and did not want her actions of challenging the professor to affect her grade:

“I can definitely relate to the student as far as the example given in the video in regards to when issues were brought up in how the dynamics of the classroom changed and how unequipped the instructor was to respond to it or shut the conversation down.”

Jennifer Gomez, Child Development major, noticed her professor did not know how to handle a class discussion after Trump’s victory in the presidential election. Instead, the professor steered the conversation to a different topic, which did not allow students to address their opinions on the matter.

“Last year, after the presidential election we had a class discussion and the issue of race and white supremacy came up,” said Jennifer Gomez. “As a Latina I felt offended, and as an immigrant I fell into the lowest category of people there is now and felt the tension in the room.”

Derald Wing Sue encourages individuals to become more engaged and educated on the topic in order to have a better context of understanding in a discussion. By doing so, individuals have the opportunity to be ready the next time a race discussion is brought up.

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Conversations on Race