Dialogue on Race and Diversity: Speaking to Deaf Ears

EMU held its annual “Dialogue on Race and Diversity” the week of Nov. 18. Sophomore Chris Parks and Senior Litza Laboriel, two organizers of the events of that week, expressed frustration with the level of campus participation.

“At an event where we offered free international food, more than 200 students showed up,” Laboriel said. “But when we talk about race and diversity, maybe 20 will come.”

There were many opportunities for the whole campus to engage in this discussion. On Monday, Nov. 18, at 8 p.m. in Common Grounds, there was a panel titled “Racism at EMU? ‘Appalling Silence.’”

Parks was the moderator for this panel, asking questions from boxes that had been placed around campus previously.

The main panelists for the event included assistant professor Carolyn Stauffer, Sophomore Malachi Bontrager, Senior Jossimar Diaz-Castro, and Senior Andrew Thorne.

Tuesday night at 7:30, the discussion from the night before was continued over dinner in the University Commons.

On Wednesday at 8 p.m. two EMU students shared their experiences on the abuse of domestic workers abroad.

Thursday night, an Open Mic was hosted at Common Grounds to further allow discussion on race and diversity, and give a creative way to express peoples’ experiences.

The week finished with Friday morning chapel, where Eastern Mennonite Seminary professor David Evans shared his own experiences of being racially profiled, and how that nearly got him convicted for a crime he did not commit.

With so many opportunities for EMU’s student body to engage the topic of diversity, why was there such little participation from all groups at EMU? Parks believes that “this campus is apathetic and the only way to alleviate the apathy is for us to have genuine, in-depth, really hard conversations around race, but that can only happen when we have the space to do so.”

Parks thinks that students need to make that space, and hopes that with the Black Student Union—BSU—starting again in the Spring that the space will be made.

He hopes that the BSU will push the envelope for continuing discussion about race and diversity that is not limited to Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, and “Dialogue on Race and Diversity” week.

Parks also hopes that the discussion can be broadened, so as not to be about a “black and white” issue, but rather the experiences of people from every background represented at EMU.

Stauffer, who was one of the panelists on Monday, thinks that there is a connection between EMU’s Mennonite culture and the lack of discussion around race. She explained that she thinks there needs to be a distinction between Anabaptist values, which she endorses, and Mennonite culture, which is not all good.

“This is where our Mennonite history of being an ‘enclave community’ may not be in our favor,” Stauffer said. She believes that the ideology of this “enclave community” creates an atmosphere where homogeneity thrives and diversity is not truly celebrated.

“On very practical levels,” Stauffer said, “I believe that we will need to rediscover the liberty that comes with the realization that unity does not mean uniformity.”

Laboriel agrees that there is much work left to be done with how EMU handles issues of race, “EMU does great at ‘celebrating’ diversity without ever touching the sensitive details of what is really happening.”

-Bethannie Parks, Style Editor


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