Principles for How We Treat Each Other: Building a community of respect and nonviolence served as the foundation and framework for Peace and Justice Initiative’s (PJI) Conversations on Race held on Wednesday, May 27, 2015, at East Campus.
PJI members Rachel Allen, professor of humanities and PJI coordinator; Hank Van Putten, adjunct professor, student life skills; Mollie McLaughlin, professor of speech; and Melissa Sierra, professor of sociology, served as facilitators as they convened Valencia faculty, staff and students along with members of the Orlando Police Department, City of Orlando, League of Women Voters and the city’s Interfaith Council to discuss topics of race and unearned privilege.
Allie Braswell, PJI advisory board member, charged attendees to “loosen the guard and engage in true dialogue.”
There were two ground rules for the three-hour session: the dialogue was to be a conversation, not a confrontation, and it was important to consider the cultural narrative that in the U.S., everyone has equal opportunities and that success is achieved through hard work and talent. Nevertheless, an exercise served to demonstrate that not all opportunity and access is truly equal and sharing and hearing peoples’ stories is essential.
“We believe that the story is transformational,” said Rachel, “and there is the scholarship on the shelf and the scholarship of the self. PJI creates safe spaces to explore the scholarship of the self,” as she explained the ways that our lives and our stories can shift the consciousness for others.
True to form, the transparency of the shared stories was riveting.
After a “privilege quotient exercise,” which served to ease barriers, each of the 14 table groups of four participants, shared serial testimonies and cross-talk, strategies that provide each person an opportunity to say his or her feelings, thoughts, reflections, and then ask questions in timed sequences.
As the conversation drew to a close, several participants shared that they were encouraged to speak up and out and wanted to continue to educate themselves and others on this very salient topic.