This piece was written for “The Towerlight” at Towson University as a Staff Writer. Check out this, and other stories from The Towerlight here:
“The Race Dialogues Project,” sponsored by the Towson University Chapter of the NAACP, was a two-day event aimed at fostering a healthy dialogue about cultural competency and racial tensions, according to chapter president Destini Collins.
“We just want to get a dialogue going between different groups of people from different backgrounds,” Collins said. “To be honest, to put it in blatant terms – black people want to know what white people think, and white people want to know what black people think.”
Day one of the project started with a “privilege walk” in which participants started on the same line and took a step forward or backward depending on the question.
For example, white males were asked to step forward, while a later round asked those who took out loans to pay for their college education to take a step back.
Assistant professor Miho Iwata led a debrief session afterward and explained that this activity gave participants self-awareness and awareness of others — and that it showed that people come from different amounts of privilege and challenges.
Assistant professor Jessica Shiller gave a keynote speech, where she talked about her experience as a public school teacher in the Bronx.
According to Shiller, public schools are the only things that force people to be exposed to different races.
A demonstration by NAACP presented the toxic nature of micro-aggressions, using examples like “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl,” and “Can I touch your hair?,” which led into a panel discussion with audience participation.
The panel included White Allies for Radical Solidarity student members Feriell Hayton and Greg Frailey.
WARS formed after the #OccupyTowson sit-in in 2015. Other panelists included students John Gillepsie, Breya Johnson and Jordyn Jones.
Audience members were invited to read aloud the NAACP’s call to action as a group and stamp their hands in paint on a poster to affirm their commitment to helping make the world a better place.
“It was very interactive and very fruitful, interesting dialogue,” NAACP headquarters Health Programs Specialist Tabatha Magobet said. “It was really great to hear different people’s perspectives.”
Collins thought that, overall, the event went well and said that she was surprised by knowledgeable comments from the audience.
“The [audience members] were very knowledgeable, they were really vulnerable, and they were really open in sharing their experiences,” Collins said. “It felt as intimate as I thought it would be. I’m really proud of Towson for this. I’m really happy to go to a school that allows dialogue like this to happen in such a free space. I’m really proud.”