Let’s Talk About Race: A Faculty-Student Roundtable

by Madalyn Johnson, Web Editor

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, the Liberal Arts department organized a roundtable where professors confronted racial-justice issues in the U.S., and afterwards opened the floor to students for discussion on the important topic. Sociology professor Roksana Badruddoja, Ph.D., religious studies professor Courtney Bryant Prince, Ph.D, and English professors, Cristina Pérez-Jiménez, Ph.D., and David Witzling, Ph.D. led the talk.

Each professor came prepared with their own presentation in regards to the major racial-jusitce problems in the U.S. today. They utilized the roundtable of professors and students to spread awareness about the problems the school faces when trying to fully embrace racial equity. David Witzling, Ph.D., announced that there will be a new minor, critical race and ethnicity studies offered next semester, and explained why a program like this is vital to add to the curriculum.

“Studying ideas about race and ethnicity, studying the cultures of people who have been traditionally marginalized and oppressed in the United States, we are only here because of political struggle,” said Witzling.

Witzling continued to explain how Manhattan College is also contributing to the struggle by not offering an exact minor study that explicitly focuses on the challenges colored people face in subordination.

“Our program we see as a continuation of that struggle,” said Witzling. “While there are many courses, including many of the electives that count for a minor on the books that deal with ideas and experiences like the ones we are focusing on, until now it hasn’t been possible, for example a student who is latinx in their own background, to group a set of courses on latinx experiences as a minor for credit.”

Courtney Bryant Prince, Ph.D, presented first and talked about how intersexuality and racial identity are intertwined in valuing someone’s worth. She exemplified how race and gender greatly marginalize and socially exclude people by discussing how some LGBTQ+ individuals and couples may be treated differently based on their sexuality and the color of their skin.

“When racism and sexism rub up against each other, they sort of have a new baby, a gendered racism or a genderedized sexism and it completely changes the way things operate,” said Bryant.

On Feb. 12, students and professors gathered in the O’Malley Alumni Room to discuss racial injustice in the U.S. today. MADALYN JOHNSON / THE QUADRANGLE

Bryant also used social activist’s, Alice Walker’s, famous saying, “womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender,” to stress how the feminist social movement should not focus soley on sexism, but on race and women of color too.

“Purple is darker than lavender. And so, it’s just about the fact women tend to be African American women or women of the African diaspora, but that they go deeper right? It’s not just this lavender sort of moment when we’re just dealing with sexism, but we’re dealing with class.”

Cristina Pérez-Jiménez’s, Ph.D., discussion on race dealt with Afro Latino studies and analyzing why society has implemented the importance of having lighter skin to Latinos. Pérez-Jiménez highlights this problem through a study that showed Latinos with lighter skin had a higher socioeconomic status than darker skinned Latinos, revealing that racism even exists amongst the Latino community. She additionally lectured about the media and how it puts this idea into minorities’ heads that they can either identify as black or Latino.

“So if you look at a lot of media reports, it’s like, you know, there’s a sense of competition, either you’re Latino or you’re black, right? And you’re being pitted against each other because you’re all fighting for resources, for presentation, for visibility, etc.,” Pérez-Jiménez said.

Pérez-Jiménez proceeded to go into depth about the normalized view of beauty in the Latino community by showing a collection of featured women from Latino Magazine, including Selena Gomez and Sofia Vergara. All the women were displayed as light skinned Latinas. This led Pérez-Jiménez to rhetorically ask the audience whether the magazine truly resembles what it’s trying to preach.

“This is Latino Magazine, it’s a celebration of diversity. Is it diversity?”

Pérez-Jiménez shows attendees past women on the cover of Latino Magazine. MADALYN JOHNSON / THE QUADRANGLE

David Witzling, PH.D., who dedicates most of his research to how economic freedom in the 20th century is represented in literacy, connected his teachings with how the white class has become the normative identity of American culture. Witzling used the 2016 Presidential Election as an example to discuss the misconceptions many have as to why Trump won, and to emphasize how this normative identity of whiteness has shaped politics today.

“We need to acknowledge that many Americans are attracted to the President’s deeply prejudiced anti immigration, anti muslim actions, his history of anti black rhetoric, and actions as well. We need to acknowledge that his racism has played a direct role in his success, ” Witzling said.

On top of discussing the past Presidential race, Witzling educated the roundtable about the history of other ethnicities who were mistreated and excluded from society. The English professor incorporated history into the lesson to show how the white class represses the discrimination their ancestors experienced, and thus aren’t socially aware of the prejudice that takes place today.

“So Jewish Americans, Italian Americans, more Irish Americans, they are imagined as racially alien. When descendants of those groups think of themselves as white, they are repressing their connections to their oppressed ancestors, and claiming an identity with descendants of people who had oppressed them.”

Lastly, Roksana Badruddoja, Ph.D., spoke about racial injustice primarily in schools, and was quick to address the incident that took place at Harvard University in which Lorgia Garcia Pena, Ph.D., a literature associate professor who specialized in Latinx studies, was denied tenure. Badruddoja spoke about the professor being rejected for tenure in an effort to emphasize how educational institutions unethically brand themselves as environments that care about racial equality and inclusion. Further into her presentation, Badruddoja explained how many schools embody a Greek system that mainly represents white privilege and entitlement which defeats the purpose of preaching diversity on campus and in the classroom.

Freshman, Gabrielle Bohner, who attended the roundtable shared how she was pleased to hear Badruddoja point out these flaws and misconceptions of racial justice in the education system.

“Just her willingness to call out institutions that we’re all apart of and that she’s employed by, you know, really was interesting to hear,” said Bohner.

After the event, Bryant expressed how crucial it is that the school organizes more roundtables so professors and students can be given the chance to talk about relevant issues and progressively grow a desire to make a change.

“What ends up happening is it allows the community to reflect on issues that are incredibly important, so we don’t get the privilege or the freedom of walking away from those problems once the symposium is over. But now comes the big part, right, now comes the hard part of us collectively working together to build something new.”

Witzling additionally discussed how roundtables allow professors to motivate their students to broaden their rational thinking about society today.

“I think that as a professor, as a teacher, I have as much power as anyone else to change the whole world, but at the very least trying to push my colleagues, my administrators, my students, towards these things. That’s a professor who has the most leverage.”