Racial Dialogue Circle Comes to Millsaps

by Catherine Arjet
assistant arts & life editor

At 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, 10 students filed into the Christian Center lounge to talk about one of the most taboo subjects in the South: race. As part of her class on race and rhetoric, Dr. Anita DeRouen has set up race dialogue circles for her students and the campus. Although it isn’t something most people choose to talk about, DeRouen wants to get the Millsaps community discussing race relations as they affect students and faculty, their families, and their communities. While only DeRouen’s students are required to attend, the sessions are open to all students. If these sessions go well, DeRouen says she would like to continue them next semester and beyond to get more of the campus involved in thinking and talking about race.

Susan Womack of the Institutional Advancement office, a facilitator who has been trained to lead these types of discussions, leads these weekly conversations. The agenda for these dialogue circles comes from the Connecticut-based group Everyday Democracy and includes topics such as “Making Connections,” “Our Unequal Nation,” “Why Do Inequalities Exist?” and “Facing Racism in Our Community.” The organization strives to create a society where people of all backgrounds can make their voices heard as they “help communities work equitably and inclusively in order to build a strong democracy and improve the quality of life for everyone.”

Womack strives to provide a safe environment where students can share their experiences with race as well as their reactions to how other perceive race. During the first session, a student spoke about how shocked she was by many of her friends’ parents not allowing their children to date outside their race. This spurred a discussion on the subject where the group was split—about two thirds of the members had grown up knowing families like this, and the other third was outraged and confused. This sort of exchange of experiences with race is exactly what these sessions are meant to provoke.

The sessions will continue throughout the semester Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. in Christian Center Room 21. For further information, contact Dr. DeRouen at deroua@millsaps.edu.

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