Event fosters racial dialogue on campus
Alexandra Muck | Thursday, September 26, 2019
As part of Race Relations Week, Student Government hosted the event “Let’s Talk about Race” on Wednesday evening. The occasion featured a brief introduction by senior Nick Ottone, student government director of University policy, to frame and conversation, and then students had small group discussions led by a student facilitator.
Senior Katie Hieatt, one of the organizers for the event, said this is its third year taking place (Editor’s Note: Katie Hieatt is a columnist for The Observer). She said the event was started by a group of students who participated at the Realities of Race seminar through the Center for Social Concerns, which is an opportunity for students to discuss race.
“After they went on that seminar, they thought there wasn’t a great space on this campus to talk about race in a frank and intimate way,” Hieatt said. “That’s why we came up with the idea of small group discussions with penetrating questions to help people explore these things.”
Hieatt said she hoped the event would be valuable to furthering the discussion of race on campus.
“I hope people get out of it that when they mess up, it’s OK and that these conversations are really valuable anyway even though they can be uncomfortable,” Hieatt said. “I hope people recognize that value and decide to pursue them more because being aware of them is really important.”
Race can be difficult to discuss, Ottone said, because it is oftentimes framed incorrectly in discussions.
“The way we approach it [is] as something that is political or a debate or a zero-sum game when it reality it’s not,” he said. “Everyone deals with race every day whether we know it or not and I think we should approach it as part of a person’s identity.”
During the event, several participants expressed gratitude for the opportunity to engage in a difficult conversation in a structured way.
“I think it’s very easy at Notre Dame to not interact with diverse communities on campus,” senior Matthew Schoenbauer said. “I was trying to be intentional about hearing other people’s stories because it’s pretty infrequent that there’s a safe structured way to do that.”
Schoenbauer said he was especially surprised by the level of understanding from the other participants.
“I’m coming from a point of ignorance and I was helped out a lot,” he said. “It was very supportive.”
Estefan Linares, a junior who participated in the event, said he thought the conversation helped to create awareness.
“You have to be willing to open up to someone else and let them open up to you,” he said.
Linares said even if people have radical views, they should be allowed to articulate them, and if they have valid reasons behind them they can productively contribute. He also thought the event was productive in helping create a sense of action.
“This was a good first step,” he said. “I think a lot of us have actions we want to take.”
Ashley Lizana, a sophomore and a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Board for student government, said student government is supporting the event in order to create a culturally competent campus.
“Their initiative this year is to create … a space where people can talk with other cultures,” she said. “ … That’s why we have Race Relations Week.”
Lizana said the most important component for these events to succeed is getting a variety of students to participate.
“We need support from everyone to make these events work,” she said. “ … I think everyone needs to talk, not just the brown or black people. It’s important that everyone’s here.”
Race Relations Week started on Friday, Sept. 20 and will run through Friday, Sept. 27. Other events included a lecture on Friday with Central Park Five member Dr. Yusef Salaam, a discussion on race and mental health and a variety of film and documentary viewings.