Students Join National Dialogue on Race Day
A blackout on campus following a lighting storm didn’t stop attendees from coming together to reflect on and discuss race in America at the first annual National Dialogue on Race Day. Despite the power being out for half an hour at the Kelley Center, attendees carried on in the dark to share their personal thoughts and experiences on the topic.
On September 12, Fairfield University hosted the community forum, “Where Do You Stand: A Dialogue on Race and Race Relations,” joining Tufts, Duke and other universities who hosted their own events. Fairfield’s event addressed recent events involving race such as the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the Supreme Court’s controversial rulings on the Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action, and Trayvon Martin and the post-verdict civil rights demonstrations.
More than 120 Fairfield University students, faculty and staff, students from Fairfield College Preparatory School and Bridgeport high schools, and community activists showed up to take part in the event.
"We hope that the dialogue will be the beginning of a much longer conversation about race and social justice in the 21st century at Fairfield," said event organizer Dr. Yohuru Williams, professor of history and chair of Black Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. The event was sponsored by the Black Studies Program, Student Mission and Identity Programs, and Marketing and Communications.
Fairfield’s dialogue focused on two of the three themes proposed by Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD) at Tufts University, the national sponsor of the NDRD. The themes addressed included how far the nation has progressed in achieving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of multicultural and multiracial democracy and what does racial integration, justice, and equality mean in contemporary America.
“The larger community's involvement with the Fairfield University community is crucial, as it presents an opportunity for teaching and learning,” said organizer Carolyn Vermont, immediate past president of the NAACP, Bridgeport branch, who holds a bachelor's and a master's degree from Fairfield. “Race relations affect all of us in one way or another. NDRD is an opportunity to start the healing process. Many people are still grieving from the race-related incidents this year.”
Following a brief panel presentation, participants joined small groups and shared how they experienced the key race-related events of the past summer and what they thought about the future of race relations in America. Dr. Williams noted that the evening was about “dialogue and healing” and an opportunity for everyone to reflect, share, and ask questions.
Melissa Quan, director of the Office of Service Learning, opened the evening saying, “We do not engage passively in the world. We study and analyze and see what contributes to injustice.” Following group sessions, participants were given the opportunity to share what was discussed. Many came up with concrete actions to address race in America such as adopting a zero tolerance policy for something that is offensive, practicing integration, and continuing to educate by hosting and attending dialogues or events that address issues of race and injustice.
Students who attended the event spoke positively about it. Valerie Emini, a sophomore at Fairfield, said, “The event was very insightful and it was great being able to talk to others at the University and high schools as well as hearing from the adults’ perspective.”
Tyrone Purcell, a high school student from Bridgeport’s Bassick High School, said, “it was eye-opening. I thought I was the only one who thought about these things. This shows that I’m not alone.”
Several other institutions will hold NDRD events, including UCLA and Duke and Arizona State universities. The CSRD is encouraging community groups, places of worship, and other organizations to organize panel discussions and symposia around the issues in their communities and on social media.