400-Plus Participants Discuss Racial Issues at CSRRR Symposium
An innovative symposium co-sponsored by the University of Florida Office of the President and Levin College of Law Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations (CSRRR) drew 400-plus participants from UF and the community for a spirited discussion of race-related issues. The event was held Sept. 9 as part of President J. Bernard Machen’s inauguration celebration. Machen has identified increased diversity on campus as a top priority for his administration.
“Diversity and racial issues are important to all of us,” said Dean Robert Jerry. “We are very proud that our center — through the dedicated efforts of Director Dr. Katheryn Russell-Brown and Assistant Director Melissa Bamba — has been able to play such a key role in focusing the attention of the university and general community on how we can work together to address them.”
President Machen asked UF’s 4,000-plus faculty members to participate in a Faculty Reading Initiative (FRI) by reading, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” And Other Conversations About Race (Basic Books, 2003) by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, clinical psychologist and president of Spelman College. Like many universities who assign reading to incoming freshmen, the FRI selects books for faculty members to provide a common reference point and facilitate discussion on important issues. Tatum’s book addresses racial identity, race-related curriculum development and need for cross-racial dialogue.
“We saw the Faculty Reading Initiative as a big step toward our goal of putting issues of race and difference up front and center at the University of Florida,” said Professor Russell-Brown. “We are pleased that President Machen has identified diversity as a central issue for his administration.”
The symposium, held at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, featured a moderated discussion between a dozen faculty members — representing UF colleges as diverse as Medicine, Fine Arts, and Design, Construction and Planning — who shared their thoughts on Tatum’s book and insights into issues of race and race relations in their teaching, on campus, and in the Gainesville community. Law Professors Berta Hernandez- Truyol, Kenneth Nunn, and Sharon Rush served on the faculty panel, which was moderated by UF Associate Dean for Minority Affairs Terry Mills.
Dr. Tatum then delivered her keynote address, in which she challenged audience members to reconsider their preconceived notions about race relations and talk openly about race issues.
“There’s too much ‘shhh-ing’ going on,” Tatum said as she demonstrated the level of discomfort many people have with discussing race relations. Many in the audience voiced their agreement with applause.
When Tatum invited audience comments and questions, Spelman College alumna JaDawnya Butler (3L) spoke about her personal experiences with racism. Butler went on to explain how these experiences led her to approach Professor Katheryn Russell-Brown and the CSRRR about the possibility of inviting Tatum to speak at the law school.
When asked why she thought Tatum was an ideal choice, Butler said, “Not only is she part of an institution that could teach us the skills that UF could use, she wrote a book on the topic. Just to see her be there was evidence to me that we had come full circle and reached a new level as an institution. I was overjoyed, to say the least.”
CSRRR’s theme for 2004-05 is “Race, Curriculum, and Education for the New Millennium: Shaping the Future, Charting a New Course.” Several programs are planned to highlight the theme, including a Race and Law Curriculum Workshop and Spring Lecture Series featuring law professor and race scholar Paul Finkelman. For more information on the ongoing work and projects of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, visit their Web site at www.law.edu/centers/csrrr/.