Race Symposium To Bring Nobel Laureate to Campus

Maegan Nelson

Whitman’s first annual Power and Privilege Symposium will consist of two days of workshops, discussion and presentations to focus on its theme, “Why Race Matters.” To augment the experience, Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchú will be giving the keynote address.

As a campus continuously promoting its commitment to diversity, there has been a lot of student effort to promote discussion of race. Many students, however, still believe that there isn’t enough of a campus-wide commitment to racial awareness and discussion. Organizers of  the upcoming race symposium hope to encourage Whitman to see that race is still an important topic in the community.

The symposium will take place on March 27 and 28.

Senior Haverty Brown, the chair of the content committee for the symposium, is in charge of organizing approximately eight upcoming workshops dedicated to race.

Brown said the workshops will be focused on race in the Whitman context and more specifically on the role of race in social life, such as interracial dating. In addition, there will be a section discussing how different perspectives on beauty are interpreted in the professional and social world. The talks will be led by both students and faculty, and discussions will be held to provide a wide range of ideas and opinions.

“Then also, we want to talk about the Whitman bubble, and what race means outside of that,” said Brown. The symposium will address problems involving race in the workplace and also problems involving race in the Washington State Penitentiary, which is a topic close to the Walla Walla community.

Senior Marcial Díaz Mejía has also been working diligently to make the symposium a success.

“The symposium as a whole is talking about the issue of race and ethnicity from a more personal perspective. There are a lot of great classes at Whitman [about this] … but this will be more peer-based,” said Díaz Mejía.

Trying to create a symposium that reflects the racial issues on campus and outside the Whitman community, however, requires a unique approach.

“Whitman is not reflective of what the population of Walla Walla is. We have different demographics than the people in the town … the Latino population in Walla Walla is greater than in the Whitman student body. We are just trying to get people to talk about race and ethnicity in a way that they don’t do on a day-to-day basis. For many people on the panels, it’s about sharing their experiences and points of view. It’s a way to educate people … by sharing experiences,” said Diaz Mejia.

First year Ravneet Waraich, a member of the Black Student Union, believes that race is a matter that people need to be educated about.

“Race is honestly just a way of identifying people physically and culturally. It shouldn’t hold much meaning … sometimes it makes walls between people. But sometimes, it is a way to better your understanding of other people and where they come from and who they are,” said Waraich.

Brown noted that the symposium is intended to promote involvement from as many people in the community as possible, particularly students.

“People don’t realize that race is still a big deal,” said Brown. “We really want this to be something that is important and that people feel that they want to be engaged in. We go about our daily lives not thinking about race … so we’ve been thinking about how to get people engaged.”

Díaz Mejía added that he hopes the symposium promotes understanding of how race plays different roles in people’s lives.

“I want people to understand the complexity of race––that race is not universal,” said Díaz Mejía.

For example, growing up in Guatemala, Díaz Mejía never felt like a minority. It was only when he began to go to college in the United States that he was labeled as such. Therefore, as he and Brown stressed, the symposium will not just be focused on individuals who are labeled a “minority” in the United States.

“We want to create a symposium that includes everyone … not just racial minorities,” said Brown.