Facing Race in Seminar event focuses on students’ experiences discussing and addressing race in seminar settings.
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
On Wednesday February 24, at 1:00pm, Saint Mary’s hosted Facing Race in Seminar. The event was a part of the Seminar Informal Curriculum program and was hosted by Rashaan Meneses, Megan Flynn (‘21), and Kulia Osborne (‘22), as a collaboration between the Student Coalition Against Abuse and Rape (SCAAR) and the Black Student Union. Through a mixture of presentation and group discussion, the event explored race, representation, and power in the seminar texts and gave students and faculty tools on how to navigate future discussions.
The idea for the event came from Megan Flynn, who was inspired by the events of Summer 2020 surrounding racial justice after the death of George Floyd. The event was created as a sister event to Facing the Canon: Women and Violence in Seminar Texts, an Informal Curriculum event that took place in October and was also led by Rashaan Menses and Megan Flynn.
The presentation portion of the event began by defining tokenism as the process of using a person (especially of a minority status) as a representation of the community they are a part of. The presentation gave the example of tokenism in Seminar as existing “in the authors seminar uses and how the author’s text is handled in class.” Community guidelines were also established with respecting each other and practicing “controversy with civility” being emphasized. The meeting was then opened up to dialogue about personal experiences surrounding race and tokenism in Seminar.
Sophomore transfer student Collin Fisher spoke deeply about his experience as one of only two Black students in his seminar class. Fisher found the event both helpful because it was a space for people to share their experiences around race in seminar, but was disheartened about the experiences that were shared.
He later reflected in part that “hearing the experiences that people have faced in seminars is most definitely disheartening. A class that can strengthen students' analysis skills, collaboration, discussion abilities, and taking in perspectives that don't match their own only to face traumatic and problematic situations that they shouldn't have to face.”
He was also disappointed in the lack of action that events like Facing Race in Seminar lead to, “I have been at this school for almost a full year, and I have been to a few of these seminar discussions. The commonality that I have noticed in each of these events was that the students are constantly expressing their distress, uncomfortably, and even traumatic experiences that they have had with seminars. All these experiences and stories being told and heard, but nothing has significantly changed for students.”
However, overall he is glad that he attended the event and is hopeful that the experiences students shared will lead to a meaningful change in seminar in the future. Other students also talked about the constraints of the seminar canon that they view as lacking in diversity and instead using tokenism.
After students shared their own experiences surrounding discussing race in Seminar, Flynn and Osborne offered tips and tools for students to navigate the topic of race in seminar and how to de-escalate discussions that have turned toxic or harmful. Flynn and Osborne also gave background on the readings up for discussion, Langston Hughes’ Theme from English B, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and Malcom X’s The Ballot and the Bullet. Flynn gave an example of how to analyze the text in a way that centers the text instead of centering personal opinion. Students were then given the opportunity to analyze the texts in small groups, practicing what had been discussed during the event.
Discussion Tips for FACING RACE IN SEMINAR:
The discussion tips provided by Flynn and Osborne provide a starting point for approaching texts centered around topics like race as well as how to keep conversations civil. The goal of the event as a whole was to have students look critically at depictions of race in seminar texts, and to learn how to decenter Western Tradition and reframe harmful narratives.
Victoria Vidales '21,