Amid progressing conversations about race and a university-wide effort to become an anti-racist institution, the Lehigh community has collaborated to provide students with spaces and opportunities to tackle difficult topics.
Community Conversations About Race, a monthly community-wide initiative, as well as other workshops hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs have increased in recent semesters with the goal of educating and fostering conversations about diversity, race and inclusion.
The recently implemented program took off this summer following the murder of George Floyd and increasing coverage and support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It offers monthly discussion forums about different topics ranging from media representation of marginalized communities to issues of white silence and its implications.
“If we don’t have dialogue then it is difficult, if not impossible, to progress as a society,“ said Jasmine Woodson, a founding member of the Community Conversations About Race team.
Woodson, alongside Tarah Cicero and Jennifer Swann, founded the initiative after adapting a book club set to start last March.
They wanted to make the educational aspect of these conversations more accessible to students, faculty and the surrounding communities to allow for broader and more inclusive discussions about the pressing issues regarding race.
“I think a big part of what we stand for is to not come into these conversations and tell them how to think,” said Nina Alameno, ‘21, a diversity peer educator who has assisted in facilitating these discussions.
Alameno, a co-founder of Diversity Peer Educators, said she has become more comfortable with speaking about race issues in general as well as Lehigh specific incidents.
“We noticed there was a lack of dialogue around the topic of race, diversity, inclusion,” Alameno said. “It’s so taboo here that people are afraid to talk about it. Now that Lehigh has decided they are going to commit to anti-racism we’ve definitely been able to be more of a presence on campus.”
Alameno is not alone in her interest as there has been significant attendance to the community conversations since they began, both among the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities.
Clara Buie, the associate director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said she has heard positive feedback from Community Conversations About Race. While the program is not directly overseen by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the content and impact it has translates directly to the mission and work of their office.
Buie said topics covered in the conversations persist among students after the program has ended and that students that have attended the conversations have also attended the Virtual M-Room and continued to enhance their knowledge there.
“It’s amazing to see how much this has impacted our community,” Buie said. “And it tells me that people are very hungry for this type of interaction.”
Buie, Woodson, Cicero and Alameno all emphasized their intention is that attendees will carry what they have learned and use it in their everyday lives.
“I’m hoping that this will be something that people can take into their own personal networks and spheres of influence and be able to have those conversations on their own,” Buie said.
As Lehigh continues to work towards becoming an anti-rasict institution, the educational resources available to the student body will continue to grow.
Alameno noted that some students may feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin when it comes to these topics.
“Being introspective and self-reflecting is the best way I’ve worked to push myself to become anti-racist,” Alameno said.
She encourages people to challenge themselves and make a conscious effort to recognize what is happening and reflect.
Alameno also encourages students to have tough conversations with friends and family, attend events and workshops, and to educate themselves through books, TV and film.
Anyone interested in attending a CCR talk, contact Tarah Cicero ([email protected]) to join the mailing list.