Members of the community gathered to discuss race at the “Talkin’ Race” event February 23.
The event was put on by Western’s Faculty Senate Social Justice and Equity Committee as part of the Community Dialogue Series.
Attendees were separated into small groups with one or two trained facilitators to guide discussions.
Trula Nicholas is a human services professor in the Woodring College of Education and chair of the committee. Nicholas said discussion in small groups helps people connect more directly.
“What we try to do is create a sense of community in a small group that’s only going to last for a couple hours,” Nicholas said. “In a smaller setting you can get those little connections. In a larger group it’s easier just to throw out random comments.”
Conversations ranged from personal experiences to the influence of a person’s environment on their perspective of racial issues.
Lucas Senger is an instructor at Western in both the College of Fine and Performing Arts and the College of Business and Economics. Senger is also a member of the planning committee for the event and said the purpose was to provide attendees with a space to have an open dialogue with community members.
“As a university, we’re obviously engaged in the culture of learning, but this is a different type of learning experience that we felt is important to offer on campus,” Senger said.
Senior Amy Nielsen attended the event as part of a class activity. Through the conversations, Nielsen gained a sense of confidence and connected with others, she said.
“We simply want to create the opportunity, the space, the place, the people to have the conversation.”
“I think it’s a rewarding experience,” Nielsen said. “Maybe our first step should be to require this sort of conversation for students so then it can become a normal thing.”
Nicholas said it is important to continue conversations about race, which are not easy to have, because it is a deep-rooted issue that has continually recurred throughout history and continues to play a role in everyday interactions.
“[Race issues] pop up and we’ll try to deal with it and calm it down but we haven’t faced it since the founding of this nation,” Nicholas said. “We all have to be there and experience the sadness but experience the hopefulness so we can truly make that a part of our past.”
Senger said it was important for attendees to come to their own conclusions or even leave the conversation open-ended, as a continual dialogue.
“We’re not prescribing outcomes, the outcomes of these conversations will become whatever they are,” Senger said. “We simply want to create the opportunity, the space, the place, the people to have the conversation.”
Similar events are expected to be held once a quarter. Senger said an event was held by the committee last year that focused on connecting people and creating relationships despite individual differences.
Nicholas said she hopes events like this encourage community members to have these conversations outside of these events as well in order to further promote open dialogue. Spreading the importance of this open dialogue about race throughout Whatcom County is important because Western is a part of the county, Nicholas said.
Nielsen said events like these which promote conversation have a positive impact on the local community as it helped her feel more relaxed when having a conversation about race.
“Race is affecting all of us and listening to these conversations proves it,” Nielsen said. “I’m excited to go out there in this world and share some of the information and to just be a better person in front of everyone.”