Campus discussion on racism

Dyson book informs campus discussion about racism

February 22, 2019
Megan Beatty '20

Saint Michael’s College faculty and staff gathered Tuesday evening, February 19, in the Dion Family Student Center Roy Room to discuss Eric Dyson’s book What Truth Sounds Like and how it relates to American society and the Saint Michael’s community today.

Dyson book cover

The large photo above the headline by Matt Fournaris ’19 shows Tuesday’s book discussion in the Roy Room as Professor Trish Siplon addresses the group.

As one conversation leader, Patricia Siplon of the Political Science department, said, “The point of tonight is to try and think not about the things we have done, but about what we aren’t doing, and not to be defensive about it.”

Faculty and staff raised and discussed several different ideas in response to the material, including how to” get comfortable being uncomfortable” when discussing matters of race, so as to be better listeners. They also discussed incorporating more African-American culture into the material taught at St. Mike’s, and the imperative and challenge of diversifying campus.

Dyson’s book, published in 2018, is an analysis of current American race relations, concerned particularly with the 1963 meeting between Robert Kennedy and a group of prominent African Americans, including the eminent African-American writer James Baldwin and freedom rider Jerome Smith.

Early in this academic year, Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt and leaders of the College’s founding resident religious order, the Society of St. Edmund (represented at this meeting by the Very Rev. David Cray, superior general and local superior Rev. David Theroux, director of the Edmundite Centers for Peace and Justice) had invited all faculty and staff to read the book and sign up to meet and discuss its arguments and how they can relate to the Saint Michael’s College community.

Community members attended representing different areas and departments of campus, including Computer Science, English, Biology, Student Life, and more. The conversation was facilitated by Patricia Siplon, professor of Political Science, and Kathy Butts of the Bergeron Wellness Center.

The attendees broke up into small groups to discuss their reactions to the reading as well as the question of how to utilize anything learned from it to ensure that St. Mike’s is a welcoming, comfortable place for our students of color, and what ways we as a community can do better by them. A second community discussion of the book will be on March 26 at 7 p.m. in the Dion Family Student Center Roy Room.

Certainly, from the perspective of this student reporter, the willingness of our faculty and staff to engage in difficult conversations and their dedication to ensuring that our campus is a welcoming environment serves our community well.

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