By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — As strangers sat casually at round tables, the conversations heard at each were difficult for those speaking, but attendees at the University of Oklahoma’s Teach-In on Race on Wednesday kept talking as they chose to educate, agitate, organize and ask tough questions about race, gender and culture.
More than 150 students and community members were in attendance. The event was the culmination of many events the Women’s and Gender Studies Center for Social Justice have hosted throughout the year, which began with “After Trayvon” in August.
Mallory Gladstein, program coordinator for the Center for Social Justice, said the Teach-In’s goal was to frame the conversation on race issues so OU and Norman communities feel comfortable discussing race.
“We hope students are critically engaged here so they continue this conversation,” Gladstein said.
After a morning presentation on “Race: The Power of an Idea” by Dr. Kristen Edwards and Dr. Greg Graham, attendees went to break-out sessions including “White People as People of Color,” “Model Minority: Clashes and Culture,” “Race is More than Just Black and White,” “Bi/Racial Bi/Cultural Identity,” “Race and the University” and “The Intersection of Race, Class and Gender.”
During “Model Minority: Clashes and Culture,” students watched a video on the struggles many Asian Americans face as being stereotyped as intellectually savvy in math, engineering and medical fields and the pressure for perfect grades.
Jennifer Quan, OU Student Life Asian American advisor, led the discussion along with graduate student Tony Lee.
At the end of the video, OU graduate student Joshua Colbert said he hated the situation many Asian American’s found themselves in.
“I hate it — people shouldn’t go outside their comfort and stress themselves to satisfy what they think is a norm and what other people expect of them,” Colbert said.
“It sucks you can’t be an individual and that some people don’t even consider what they might be good at,” OU junior Chanh Le said before the discussion turned to what students and the university could do to support those struggling with identity issues.
Additionally, throughout the event, attendees were encouraged to tweet their thoughts with #OUTeachIn. The Twitter feed was displayed with comments such as “Grateful to be at a university that is not afraid to talk about race!” and “Other peoples’ life experiences are different than yours. Don’t deny their reality.”
Ernest Ezeugo, political science major and past Student Body Association president, said OU’s Teach-In on Race had taught him that acceptance and support of other races is a work in progress.
“I believe the concept of color blindness is a cop-out because that means we don’t truly understand each other,” Ezeugo said. “Understanding is difficult, though, because generalizations can overshadow individual struggles.”
Clay Pierce, a senior broadcasting journalism major who is enrolled in the course “Race, Gender, Class and Media,” said his biggest take-away from his class and the event was there are still so many existing race, gender and cultural issues for a large number of people.
Graduate student Molly Hall-Martin said the event made her feel like there were individuals on campus like herself who are dissatisfied with being forced to choose “other” on demographic forms.
“I am multi-racial and I always check ‘all that apply’ on demographic forms,” Hall Martin said. “Checking ‘other’ feels uncomfortable. I don’t want to pick a side. I’m more than that.”
At the conclusion of the day, students and community members were asked to think about where the discussion would go beyond the event. Attendees took turns sharing what they wanted to tell the world.
One student said, “Bettering yourself does not have to come at the expense of others;” while another said, “It’s OK to mess up when you try and find out who you are;” and another said, “By not being present, you’re missing the tools to talk effectively about race.”
Norman Police Chief Keith Humphrey encouraged attendees to continue beyond Teach-In on Race and have difficult discussions on race, gender and culture.
“Don’t let the momentum stop. Keep it going. You can never be afraid to speak out on what’s right. It’s an ongoing process,” Humphrey said.
Teach-In on Race was made possible by the efforts of the Women’s and Gender Studies Center for Social Justice, OU Writing Center, Housing and Food Services and Student Affairs.
For more information about the Women’s and Gender Studies Center for Social Justice, visit csj.ou.edu.
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.