Continuing the Conversation.

Courtesy: Ayaha Gallah (The Quinnipiac Chronicle)

Students gathered in the Mount Carmel Auditorium on Tuesday, Feb. 25 to have a conversation about race, safe spaces and how to keep students talking about these issues.

From left to right: University Honors Program Director Kathy Cooke, sociology professor Don Sawyer, legal studies professor Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox and sociology professor Keith Kerr lead the discussion with students. Photo: Julia Gallop

The purpose of the town-hall style discussion, called “Continuing the Conversation: Safe Space, Race & Racism,” was to engage the campus community in a conversation on what safe space are and how racism affects both Quinnipiac and the United States. Problems associated with racism have been a prominent topic on college campuses recently, particularly after the events that took place at Yale and the University of Missouri last year.

The university’s Honors Program hosted the event, and history professor and University Honors Program Director Kathy Cooke moderated.

“It’s better not to be silent and instead to talk and have conversation,” Cooke said, “Not necessarily to try to convince, but to actually exchange your experiences, your thinking on these things.”

The panel consisted of Keith Kerr and Don Sawyer, both sociology professors, as well as Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, an assistant professor of legal studies.

Sociology professor Keith Kerr discusses racism in society at the forum. Photo: Julia Gallop

During the event, students were allowed to speak publicly to the audience and submit questions anonymously. Parts of the discussion were based off videos from a Connecticut Forum event on race and racism. The event was supported by the

and held in partnership with the Center for Cultural and Global Engagement.

Sawyer responds bluntly to a question regarding the reality of racism.

“The idea or existence of racism is not an opinion–it’s a fact,” he said.

Students raised questions pertaining to diversity, how much diversity is “enough” and whether or not it can be quantified.

“We don’t really have a sense of understanding of what’s happening with someone whose experience we don’t share and this creates a larger gap,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.

“That gap often gets filled by who controls the narrative on those experiences.”

Many students were interested in understanding how to get people more engaged in a conversations about race or racism. One member of the audience suggested that students need to do a better job of making their problems known. Others said even if people aren’t listening, it doesn’t mean students should stop talking about these topics.

Senior Gerard Lisella speaks at the event. Photo: Julia Gallop

Ayanna Simpson, a junior biology major, suggested people have to take it upon themselves to be proactive and understand people’s differences.

“I think if we start by taking initiative and educating people, then that can start to bring forth conversation,” Simpson said. “I feel like racism comes from ignorance and not really wanting to address the truth.”

By the conclusion of the event, many students were still eager to continue the conversation and share their thoughts.

“I’m really thrilled with the student participation and the sort of creative energy that went around exchanging feelings and experiences and an inkling of solutions,“ Cooke said.

The University Honors Program hopes to hold similar events in the future alongside existing discussion groups on campus.

Zachary Blanchard, a University Honors Program student who helped organize the event, said he thinks students should continue to talk about the social issues addressed at the event.

“Let’s talk about it more and I think the more we talk about it and the more the student body realizes their voice can be heard,” Blanchard said.


LEARN MORE about the CT Forum Racism


Here are some questions that students submitted during our conversation:

1. Is bigotry or racism an opinion?

2. A commonly cited reason to support the “Safe Space” movement is a lack of diversity on college campuses, whether that diversity stems from economic status, race, or religion. How much diversity is “enough” diversity? Can diversity be quantified, or is it subjective to those who feel oppressed?

3. Why is there even a debate on whether or not minorities/marginalized group are treated badly when we are saying we are being hurt? If I broke my leg how can someone tell me it doesn’t hurt that bad?

4. I think the problem most people have with “safe spaces” is a misunderstanding of what they are. How would you define a safe space?

5. Is it possible to exist in a world where people can speak without ever offending anyone or is offense inherent in a community?

6. What is the difference between hate speech and defamation? Could hate speech become illegal in the future?

7. Racism is a fact?

8. Where are obscenity laws banned in the United States?

9. Safe space vs inclusive environment?

10. Is Obama limited by his race or does he face the same limitations as all presidents do in their conflicts with Congress?

11. How does racism play into the First Amendment? What’s the relationship? Should we be censoring racist comments?

12. Do you think that if we stop talking about racism, it will go away or is history doomed to repeat itself if we don’t learn about it?

13. How do these questions extend beyond race? Are the effects on other classification systems different? For example, sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliations, etc.

14. But this doesn’t mean that racism and other unequal social constructs should be fact. How can we change it if “opinions” or “facts” are perpetuated by being allowed to be expressed?

15. Is affirmative action discriminatory?

16. I understand that Quinnipiac is 83% white. What is steering other races away from applying to Quinnipiac? Is there something our community is portraying that prevents other races from coming here?

17. There is a problem with the fact that our school is majority Caucasian. Why is there such a lack of minorities? A matter of money? Lack of good education? What can we do to change this?

18. Do you feel as if what is going on at Quinnipiac is due to racism because it is easy and there isn’t a higher power ready to help this hard situation?

19. Is a lack of diversity a college’s fault if it is a relatively small campus such as this one?

20. Why would you need to diversify a small school with a small applicant pool? Isn’t it up to students to choose their schools? You can’t blame colleges for not admitting more “diverse” students when not a lot of different kids are represented in the applicant pool.

21. If the percentages for certain demographics of the college population is underrepresented, where does the burden lie in order to correct the percentages? Do the percentages even need to be corrected? What confounding variables might skew the results, and create a misperception of the demographic disparity?

22. Is ignorance truly a form of racism though? Or could it be just plain ignorance of facts?

23. On campus we have a Greek organization solely for black students. Is this counterproductive?

24. Do you think the unemployment rates for various races differ by field of jobs or experience needed?

25. Who is to blame for lack of understanding in terms of safe spaces?

26. I remember when I applied to college, I was told “Your application looks just like any other white rich kid because that’s what you are.” I’m not saying reverse racism even exists, but what are these more selective processes for whites doing to the overall community?

27. I think many of us are at the point where we realize this is an issue. A HUGE issue. So where do we start? What can I do, as a 20 year old college student, to improve opportunity for everyone? And how do we get people to stop pointing fingers and just take action?

28. What can we do to create safe space and fight racism? What can we do as college students?

29. We’ve mentioned that ignorance can be seen as the easy way out but still constitutes as racism. Is there racism on this campus specifically that the student body is generally unaware of?

30. So are we responsible for educating everyone who doesn’t know?

31. Is it the duty of the people being oppressed to teach the oppressors?

32. The topic of racism is always discussed but why are we never discussing solutions?

33. How heavily does the forum in which the narrative is shared influence the audience’s perception? Should the narrative be viewed from an objective or subjective position? How detrimental are those people who are not open minded, or unwilling to open themselves up, to the discussion? How could this be circumvented or remedied?

34. Maybe people who aren’t personally affected by these issues, their problem isn’t that they don’t care, it’s they don’t know how to respond/help/act?

35. So when we conclude this conversation, my question for the students is what are we students willing to do to overcome these barriers? Because one person or one group is not enough to implement major change it is going to take every single one of us at this University.

36. The problem with these discussions is that the audience is usually the people who were motivated to attend because they already understand that racism exists and empathize with the problem and want their opinions heard. How do we get this information to the general public who would rather remain apathetic than attend?

37. With an increase of interracial interactions and marriage, will racism disappear or will it emerge in a new form?

38. Why should race or ethnicity matter in terms of accepting students? Why is it not simply based on academics?

39. I would like to draw attention to the fact that the masses can voices their opinions and scream their experiences at the top of their lungs but in the end a voice can only be carried so far if there are no ears for the complaint to fall on. We all gathered to discuss race as a student body with faculty facilitating the discussion but where were the Quinnipiac administration?

40. I think our admissions department puts a lot of effort into diversifying our population. But how can we send a rejection letter to a white student with impressive grade just because they will not add to the diversity of the university? Can we stop putting the blame on college admissions and start looking into the way individual students’ backgrounds impact their admissions criteria? This is an issue that we need to trace back much further. How do we level the playing field in high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools? Because THIS is how we diversify college campuses.

41. Is racism anyone’s fault? Is placing blame, such as saying that the privileged need to step up or make the change, really the best way to unite?

42. Shouldn’t we begin fixing the problems from the base level? It seems like we focus on changing problems at the higher education level, but what if we change from preschools? Elementary schools? By changing at the base of the education pyramid, couldn’t we change better?


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