emBRACE Forum Held to Promote Discussion on Race

Out of the Blue, a student-led organization dedicated to educating the student body about the intricacies of identity, hosted a forum titled “embRACE” to allow members of the Andover community to talk about race in a safe and comfortable setting last Wednesday evening.

The forum, which featured an anonymous text-in opportunity and student-facilitated groups in which participants openly discussed race relations at Andover and elsewhere, was conceived to keep recent conversations about race on campus aflame.

The event’s organizers’ main goal was to create a safe space in which community members – regardless of prior knowledge of the topic – could discuss race without judgement, said Alessa Cross ’16, one of the forum’s facilitators.

“What often happens is that we all focus on definitions and arming ourselves with the right vocabulary to talk about race or any other facet of identity so that we avoid making any mistakes,” wrote Alba Disla ’15, an organizer and a facilitator of the event, in an email to The Phillipian. “While that approach is definitely valuable, not enough time is devoted to looking within ourselves and asking ourselves questions about how we identify.”

Participants in the forum were asked to respond to questions posted on the walls of the Underwood Room, which were intended to spark conversations on topics ranging from personal racial identity to participants’ fears about the forum. Soon after, students began to move about the room and read others’ responses, writing check marks on the ones that resonated with them.

Upon entering embRACE, participants were assigned to discussion groups. The groups, each headed by two student facilitators, offered a chance for every voice to enter the conversation.

“[Our group] talked about our personal experiences based on where we come from and what we’ve seen within our own friend-group dynamic, here at [Andover],” said Janet Conklin ’17 in an interview with The Phillipian.

“If race is a fluid construct – some might say a social construct––we have to remember that racism isn’t,” Adrian Khactu, Instructor in English, added. “We think of racism as interpersonal racism, that doesn’t happen so much here in our small New England enclave. But we don’t realize is that there are many other types of racism: systemic racism, institutional racism. We need only look at the fact that the wealth gap by race, here in 2015 in the United States, is actually larger than in South Africa during the time of Apartheid.”

Audience members ended the night by applauding Out of the Blue’s initiative and the guidance of Linda Carter Griffith, Dean of the Office of Community and Multicultural Development, in organizing the forum. The facilitators encouraged students and faculty members interested in keeping the conversation alive to get involved in spreading discussion throughout campus.

Cam Mesinger ’16 said, “I think that this [forum] was really well-advertised, but these kind of conversations can’t really die down. Especially [because] Ferguson was last summer… trying to just keep the discussion going after the media stops covering it, after people stop being ‘interested’ is really important.”

Disla added, “The closing remarks, in which [the facilitators] asked students who wanted to continue the conversation to sign up for an email list, was an open invitation for those who are seeking some next steps in this kind of work. For some people, this was the start of a long journey toward understanding the impacts of race and we want to emphasize that the Andover community is willing to do something with them.”

*Editors Note: Alessa Cross is a Commentary Editor for* The Phillipian, *Vol. CXXXVIII.*