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Understanding race

By Carlina Duan, Community Culture Editor
Published February 7, 2013

Beginning in January 2012, the Understanding Race Project has facilitated dozens of workshops in order to train teachers and administrators in schools across the district to have conversations about race.

As a student coordinator of the project, Gordon has participated and led several of these workshops in various schools across Ann Arbor. He observed the applicability of the theme semester in all three audiences.

“What we’re hoping to do is bring everyone a couple steps closer to having these conversations and appreciation for race based on their personal history,” he said. “It’s been interesting to see (the reactions) of middle- and high-school students who are just sinking their teeth into this issue. Some are anxious; some are scared; some are excited,” he said. “And it’s also exciting to see members of this community who are perhaps older and have been doing this kind of work for a long time.”

A community conversation

Harris shed light on the goals of the Understanding Race Project.

“(We aim) to look at race and to understand it more deeply through the ways it intersects with other identities — such as gender, sexual orientations. … A second goal is not only to look at race in terms of the black-white dichotomy, but to look at it more broadly. A third goal is to include local expertise, so we’re highlighting U-M faculty research as well as community members,” she said.

The theme semester student steering committee accompanies the Understanding Race Project. It’s a student organization on campus that works to captivate all students in various theme semester events and activities throughout the term. The group meets weekly in order to plan the logistics of theme semester events, and also to collaborate with other student organizations across campus.

Public Policy junior Salma Moosa, a student facilitator of the steering committee, described the group’s aim to attract student interest in the theme semester.

“The goal of the semester is that every single student on campus is able to more comfortably engage in a conversation about race than they were before the race semester theme started,” she said, noting that the committee will try to encompass all students within conversations about race — not just students who are enrolled in theme semester classes.

While events are still in the planning stages, they will most likely incorporate and expand connections between race and gender, sexuality, the arts, the culinary field and beyond. Gordon revealed one potential theme semester event that will explore the intersection between race and athletics.

“We’ll be trying to do something around the Fab Five basketball team,” said Gordon. “The Fab Five is an important part of Michigan athletics history, and we’ll look at that conversation intersected with issues of race and class.”

The student steering committee hopes to invite a member of the Fab Five to come to campus to speak and to host a discussion about the evolving nature of race and class in athletics.

Other events throughout the semester will include a LGBT community summit called Color of Change, which plans to delve into the experiences of LGBT and people of color. Additionally, the student steering committee plans to create panels, discussions and lectures that feature both people of color as well as other professionals who have studied race or worked in racial issues.

Outside of the steering committee, the Understanding Race Project also works to implement community events that center around the theme semester. These events include monthly teen science cafés revolving around race and topics such as public health and law, hosted at the Museum of Natural History. Speakers are invited to discuss such issues at these monthly conversations, followed by an audience discussion.