'Un PC Talk' aims to change dialogue
Tired of politically correct discussion?
Judging from the dialogue in Daggett Lounge on Wednesday night, many Bowdoin students would agree with this notion.
Students, faculty, and administrators gathered for the "Un PC Talk" on race and other sensitive issues at Bowdoin in an attempt to create more dialogue on campus.
In an effort to prove their "Un PC" character, coordinators of the event publicized the discussion by displaying provocative posters and table toppers to spark student interest.
The discussion, organized by Jarrett Young '05, Lauren Flinn '04, Emily Scott '04, and Mark Roberts '04, came together after a Residential Life meeting last week that focused on the racial incidents at the Pub two weeks ago.
"We networked with different people. All of us are involved with different parts of the campus and were able to bring all our friends. We were able to have a more diverse crowd than is usually in the room in those types of meetings," Flinn said.
Flinn introduced the discussion by saying, "We are a group of students who were concerned about all these issues on campus and felt that something needed to be done about it. We wanted to create a space where we can all address these issues openly."
The group was asked to confront themselves, take a risk, stand up for their beliefs, keep an open mind, get past labels or the fear of being labeled, be honest, and challenge each other.
The group arranged an exercise called "Stand" and a skit based on racial stereotypes to initiate discussion. Flinn described Stand to the group as, "a kinesthetic way of seeing where people are coming from."
In the preliminary task, the facilitators read a statement and asked members of the Bowdoin community to stand if they fit into the category of the statement. Students were supposed to make eye contact with those standing, and notice those who weren't, but not use verbal communication with other students at all.
Students were asked to stand about personal issues like if their parents were still together, if they believed in God, if they had gone to public school, if their parents belonged to a country club, if their ancestors had been brought to this country against their will, and if they had ever been part of a sports team.
The moderators also questioned the crowd about where students partied, their drinking habits, and their dating experience with other races.
Another group of statements forced the participants to confront their ideas on discrimination and racism. Students, faculty, and administrators were asked to stand if they had been discriminated against if they had ever felt guilty for being the race that they were, was the only person of their race in a room, if they expected to see more than 20 people a day of their own race at Bowdoin, and if the majority of their professors were of their same race.
The final two statements asked people to stand if they had heard a racist, homophobic, or classist joke while at Bowdoin, and then if they had made a racist, classist, or homophobic comment. For both of these, only a few people remained seated.
People's reactions to the exercise were mixed. Some people found it embarrassing to stand when they were the minority in the category. Others noticed how much they were in the majority for certain statements.
Most students appreciated the variety of concerns about sexuality, gender, class, as well as race discrimination at Bowdoin.
"The silence rule was somewhat frustrating. You want to explain yourself when you're standing up," Perrin Wheeler '07 said.
"We were hesitant to do the stand exercise because it really forces you to physically step out of your comfort zone. We weren't sure if Bowdoin was ready for that type of activity. I think it went really well. Even the people that didn't say anything realized something that they hadn't thought before. The over-arching theme was that we really don't know each other at all, even our friends," Flinn commented.
The idea for the stand exercise came from Flinn's experience as a POSSE scholar. According to those involved, Wednesday night's event is only the first step toward more dialogue. Next time, Flinn wants to challenge the entire Bowdoin community to the "privilege zone" activity. Similar to the stand exercise, the privilege zone activity asks students to stand in a horizontal line and take a step back if they have been discriminated against or a step forward if they have employed someone in their family, such as a maid, for example.
Some people felt that many times minorities make racist jokes too and people disregard it. "Is it ok to make racist jokes against white people just because they're in the majority or in power?" one student asked. The issue of minorities making fun of their own culture as a defense mechanism was also discussed.
"It's an uncomfortable exercise to do and it's a lot more provocative," Flinn said.
The last two statements in the stand exercise were about people hearing or making racist, homophobic, or classist statements generated a mini-debate.
Dan Schuberth '06 brought up the point that ideological oppression exists at Bowdoin, citing a recent "hate crime" on campus-posters essentially comparing Republicans to Nazis that were put up in response to a College Republican poster in support of President Bush .
"Ideological discrimination shouldn't be tolerated. I can't respect people who are filled with hate," Schuberth said.
Students then struggled with the idea of defining racism, hate crimes, oppression, and prejudice.
"What is a hate crime? Were their thoughts a hate crime or was it the fact that they expressed it in the way they did? What about free speech?" one student asked, referring to the Nazi posters.
Hari Kondabolu '04, Emily Scott '04, Jerry Edwards '04, and Sam Terry '04 did a skit addressing the idea of defining the words we use. The students pretended to be studying for an economics test when Jerry accused the two white students for getting a good grades because their professor was white. Emily retorted by saying that, by using Jerry's theory, he should get good grades in Africana Studies classes. Hari complained about getting a D on the test, which Sam explained by "another case of affirmative action." Enraged, Hari told Sam to just go flip his collar up and join his lacrosse buddies.
They investigated the idea of defining racism in many different ways. Hari's definition of racism stemmed from his feeling of being outnumbered. Sam felt that he was singled out because he was white and people automatically assumed that he didn't care or that he was actively perpetuating racism. Emily had been taught to treat everyone the same, but now felt that by establishing specific programs that addressed minorities she was now being told to treat people differently. Jerry's racism stemmed from being frustrated at a dominant cultural power and people always accusing him of being an angry black man.
The skit caused people to talk about the way people label others based on characteristics such as their participation in a certain sports team or the way they dress. Another issue raised at the discussion was the role of international students on campus. One student from Africa felt that he was mistaken for an "African American" and was the target of racist comments based on an assumption. A recurring concern was the need for respect on campus.
Many seniors expressed their frustration with the diversity issue on campus and felt that at this point they just wanted to graduate and not deal with the problem. Flinn, however, said that as a senior and ResLife member, she has established relationships with administration members and is in a position to run a discussion about these problems.
"I've seen this campus go through a transition; however, it's getting more and more uncomfortable as it's getting more diverse. It should be going the opposite way. I want the younger students to have a better time than I did," she said.
She feels that one of the biggest problems is that there are "too many superficial interactions on this campus."
"We need to rethink our social interaction. We don't have time for each other and that's problematic. We really need to go past this-'Hi, how are you? Where are you from?' And then defining that person because they are from Connecticut. You put people in this box and a lot of our interactions are based on that. Ask your friends those really provocative questions," she encouraged.
Many students expressed annoyance with the fact that issues on the Bowdoin campus go ignored until something major happens. Jessica Brooks '07 had never attended a diversity discussion before. She said, "As a first year, I think there is a reasonable amount of racial tension on campus. It's great that talks are being instigated, but too bad that it takes an event like what happened at the pub to spur conversation."
Administrators like Dean of Student Affairs Jim Kim and President of the College Barry Mills were also in attendance. Kim said, "I think the un PC talk was an excellent opportunity for students to share their feelings about their Bowdoin experience. This event is a strong message that so many are making open dialogue a priority.
organizers and those in attendance were able to create an atmosphere that was safe and accepting, and I appreciate the many who stepped up to share their very personal thoughts. People left with a lot to say, but that's a good thing."
"This discussion was just the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more work to be done. Hopefully with that discussion other people will realize that other work will need to be done. Nothing has been accomplished, this is just a step in the right direction," Flinn said.
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