Manchester University
Oak Leaves

March 1, 2019

MU Discusses the 'Unfinished Project of Race in America'

Marcus Zwiebel


Manchester University hosted an enlightening Discussion Day which centered on what was characterized as the “unfinished project of race in America.” The day-long event was held Wednesday, Feb. 20, at a variety of locations across campus, featuring a diverse group of presenters.

Registration for Discussion Day workshops began at 9 a.m. and preceded the keynote address in Cordier Auditorium. Students were invited to select the workshop of their choice which they could attend following the primary address.

The keynote speaker was introduced by Uma Ganesan, assistant professor of history, and the chair of the Discussion Day committee for 2019. This year’s keynote speaker was Lisa Givan, Indiana Tech’s vice president of Diversity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer. She gave, in comparison to other VIAs, a shorter, but still engaging, address on race relations which she titled “Ahas and Amens.”

Givan told the audience that she is the daughter and fourth child of a Baptist man from Alabama and a biracial Pentecostal woman. She attended private school in Akron, Ohio, throughout her youth and explained that despite her racial difference and the presence of few individuals of color, she was not inherently aware of these differences until elementary school. It was there a group of students began a chant that included troubling remarks about skin color.

Givan used this anecdote to inform the audience about what she termed the “them” conflict, by which individuals identify others unlike them as something entirely removed from themselves. She became aware of the unintentional, although sometimes intentional, “them” conflict through her education and professional career in Ohio, as well as through the schoolyard incident.

“Because of that ‘them’ conflict, I had to learn to cultivate relationships, I had to grow comfortable in my own space and in my own skin,” Givan said. “And I’m very thankful for that.” Givan also posed the idea that people are often “stuck on mute.” She further explained that individuals tend to ignore much of the experiences around them. When they suddenly “go off mute and tune back in,” the world is much louder and much more abrasive, simply because they had been absent from it directly and are jumping back into an experience with the world rapidly.

Givan’s advice for individuals who believe they are growing increasingly mute, or are already mute, includes taking a step back and understanding that you are an individual that must have relationships with others—there is simply no option but to interact (and interact appropriately) with others daily. In her keynote she also considered the names of others and how that simple knowledge fosters and promotes relationships with others.

“Get a life, learn how to develop relationships and learn each other’s name,” said Givan, before receiving some applause from the packed Cordier audience. “And hopefully this is one of those ‘aha’ moments that you’ll recall weeks or even years from now and go ‘now I know what she meant.’ I can only hope it will be life-changing for all, or at least one of you out there.”

The keynote address was followed by a variety of workshops in the academic center which students had the option to register in advance for prior to the address. The workshops engaged students, staff, and faculty, and covered a variety of topics including race, police, the relationship between and efficacy of nonviolence and violence, race and environment, as well as the mindset around and involving race.

The Discussion Day workshops were followed by a series of 21 caucuses categorized by race which were moderated by faculty, staff and friends of the Manchester community. Manchester University’s 2019 Discussion Day events provided students an opportunity to complete two VIA requirements: one for attending Givan’s keynote address and one for attending both a workshop and a caucus.

The Discussion Day events, free and open to the public, were concluded by closing statements by Raylene Rospond, vice president for Academic Affairs.