RACE: Red & Green provides open conversation about race
The Minot State University Red & Green hosted a discussion panel about race last week for the purpose of opening a safe space for conversation to understand and begin to solve issues of racism.
Sarah Aleshire, assistant professor of English, Harry Hoffman, associate professor of sociology, Annette Mennem, director of the Native American Center and a co-chair of the MSU Diversity Council, and Jerusalem Tukura, MSU student and editor of the Red & Green, served as panelists. Dan Fagan, Red & Green staff writer, moderated.
For 90 minutes, questions flowed in from the more than 120 students in the Conference Center — with the overall question of how people can use their position in society to bridge the gap between races.
As the conversation turned to the idea of implicit bias, Mennem spoke about her past experiences as a Native American woman. She learned that she needed to understand herself before she could understand others.
“I see you, you see me — we’ll stay on our separate sides, but as I matured, I realized that it was my job to educate others to reverse the issue of racism,” Mennem stated.
“As humans, we all have an implicit bias and to address this bias, you must put yourself into situations that involve interactions with said bias,” Tukura added.
The audience also wanted to know why it is important to discuss race when there are many pressing issues facing the world.
“We’ve been dealing with racism for over 400 years, and there are many more issues facing the world, like poverty, that are the main roadblock to confronting racism. These issues all intersect,” Hoffman responded.
Another similar response arose when an audience member asked why racism is still a problem.
“Racism will always be there — as long as people are different and what makes us different also tends to make us uncomfortable,” Mennem responded.
Aleshire said that the only way to make a difference is to have the uncomfortable conversations.
“As a member of the ethnic majority, I believe I should use my position to get the ball rolling on the conversation then hand it over to the group that the issue involves,” Aleshire said. “Also, it’s very important to make a space for people to talk.”
The issue of protesting and former NFL football player Colin Kaepernick also came up from the audience.
“You have rights, and you have responsibilities. You have rights, but you also have the right not to infringe on the rights of others,” Mennem retorted.
One of the most interesting moments during the panel came when Mennem asked a question to the crowd.
“How many of you were forced to be here? ... If you hadn’t been forced to be here, would you still be here? Sit if your answer is ‘yes.’”
When the first question was asked, one-fifth of the room stood up and, after the statement of the second question, about 10 people were left standing.
“You have to do it because you want to do it,” Hoffman said about joining the conversation.
The most engaging discussion of the night began when the moderator walked the microphone into the crowd, allowing audience members to ask questions directly to the panel.
Questions included, “Do we, as people, segregate ourselves without realizing it?” “Does racism originate in the home or as an effect of the outside world?” “How can we combat a bias when most public information is received from biased news networks?”
Hoffman said that to find the truth, people must go deeper beyond the media to get more accurate information.
“We’re having this conversation in a safe zone — what we need to do is be able to have this conversation on the street,” Hoffman said.
In the final minutes of the panel discussion, a student asked what students can do to embrace diversity and inclusion. All four panelists agreed that training sessions on diversity would be beneficial for students, faculty, and staff — they also hope that more panels like this one can facilitate more open conversations about other uncomfortable topics in the future.