Race in America panel ushers in Black History Month

By EVELYN TAYLOR-MCGREGOR ’16

Assistant News Editor

Race in America Panel with Professors Alex Orquiza, Miya Woolfalk, Irene Mata, Brenna Greer by Sammy Marrus '16  Assistant Photography Editor 

Race in America Panel with Professors Alex Orquiza, Miya Woolfalk, Irene Mata, Brenna Greer
by Sammy Marrus ’16
Assistant Photography Editor

Harambee House hosted a panel entitled “Race in America” as part of Wellesley’s Black History Month programming last Thursday. The panel was facilitated by Professor Alex Orquiza and featured Professors Brenna Greer of the history department, Irene Mata of the women’s and gender studies department and Miya Woolfalk of the political science department. Carine Wete, a junior Davis Scholar and the student organizer for Harambee House, chose the panelists with the aim of representing a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

The panel began with a screening of the Coke commercial that aired during the Superbowl in which various people sing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. Orquiza followed the commercial by showing slides of negative responses to the commercial on Twitter and other social media sites.

The panelists discussed how the controversy illustrated why the United States is not a “post-racial society.” Greer in particular stated that she was more surprised that the negative comments came as such a shock to so many people.

“[The negative reaction] is a mainstream reaction,” Greer stated. “We’re in a very particular room so we’re looking at the reaction as something antiquated or outmoded but the fact is that it’s not … Part of my surprise over the controversy is the surprise over the controversy.”

After the initial discussion about the Coke commercial, the panelists transitioned to discussing race at Wellesley. They dedicated particular focus to why they think students at Wellesley are averse to having conversations about race.

Alessandra Saluti ’16, who attended the panel, agreed that students at Wellesley often shy away from topics they don’t know how to approach.

“I think a lot of people are afraid of coming to a place like this because they don’t feel like this is their space,” Saluti said. “[Students] are afraid of engaging in the dialogue, which I think is pretty dangerous.”

Tracey Cameron, the director of Harambee House, also acknowledged the fear many students at Wellesley have of starting tough conversations about privilege and oppression within the student body. However, she emphasized that such discussions are necessary for an inclusive campus.

“I think to really be a multicultural, diverse, accepting community we have to engage in those conversations,” Cameron said. “I think what we do sometimes at Wellesley is talk around the issues instead of dealing with them.”

Harambee House is planning other Black History Month events such as an “Africans in America” panel and a lecture on Martin Luther King Jr. to continue engaging the student body in discussions about race.

“It’s been one of my goals since I’ve been at Wellesley to situate Harambee in the broader academic scope of the institution and not have it just be a social space,” Cameron said. “I want students to also look at Harambee House as the place where we’re doing good work and work that is engaging the entire community in the discourse.”

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