Spring Symposium Set to Open Racial Conversations

Daniel Kim

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Students often look for the opportunity to discuss campus issues, and next semester there will be another forum for a specific conversation about race. Six years ago, a race symposium took place at Whitman in response to a controversial campus incident involving blackface. Now, sophomore ASWC Senator Mcebo Maziya has decided to bring back the symposium. Maziya and a committee are in the process of setting up a race symposium for the upcoming semester.

Maziya is in the process of creating a solidified group of students who would act as the committee for the symposium. With the creation of this committee, the members will discuss and talk through some of the possible specific topics regarding race that could be discussed at the symposium.

“All in all, there are about 10 of us and even more people are joining. It is definitely something students want to talk about, but don’t know really how to talk about it,” said Maziya.

Maziya has asked fellow ASWC Senators as well as several professors for some advice on the matter. Associate Professor of Sociology Helen Kim is one such professor.

“I think the reasons why [Mcebo] and others are interested in having a symposium is because a lot of people at Whitman, like a lot of people anywhere, are uncomfortable talking about race,” said Kim in an email. “The symposium can provide one way to talk about race.”

The symposium is in the process of being organized, and Maziya is looking to various sources around campus to turn his plans into reality.

“I spoke to the vice president of ASWC, Marcial Díaz, and he is really helping me out with setting up logistics and getting my vision really centered on what I actually want to see and how big in scope I want to do it,” said Maziya. “So a lot of people in student government are really helping me out in terms of getting my vision clear and getting my mission at a point where it’s relatable with the Whitman community.”

The symposium in 2006 grew out of an incident that occurred at a campus party.

“The incident came from a Survivor-themed party––the Survivor episode during that time was ‘Australian Outback.’ A few guys dressed up in tribal face paints. At the time they did not know the history of blackface––the issue was really more that they were naive to the historical meaning of face painting one’s face and the race issues surrounding their behavior,” said Assistant Director of Admission Robert Street, who graduated in 2007, in an email.

This time, however, Maziya has no racial incident to fuel the symposium on campus. Instead, he decided to organize the symposium to help inform students’ awareness of racial and ethnic issues. He believes that it would help start discussions and talk on campus about racial tensions in the same way talks about rape and gender awareness have started.

Maziya envisions that the race symposium will continue on every year, and he hopes to further his mission of exploring nuanced ways in which students interact with race and ethnicity on a college level.

“We all know what racism looks like on a very basic level and ostensible level. We know what blackface means, we know what saying the ‘n’ word means. We do not really know how certain behaviors and little intricate acts can be perceived as oppression,” said Maziya.

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