Race relations committee to address racism and diversity in video podcasts

Committee member Craig Roberts: “White people tend to see racism in terms of lynching, physical abuse, bullying and other products of hate. Racism is more than the overt, blatant, extreme incidents.”

The Faculty Council Committee on Race Relations will soon release a series of video podcasts addressing what they have learned about diversity and racism.

Since last May, the committee of 12 faculty members, staff and students has met weekly for two hours to identify, discuss and develop solutions to racial issues on campus. Graduate student Jonathan Butler, who went on a hunger strike last fall demanding then-UM System President Tim Wolfe’s resignation, and interim President Mike Middleton are both committee members. Last fall, the committee released a series of videos laying out their goals and discussing their progress.

The first podcast in the upcoming series may be released within the next two weeks, featuring committee member and plant sciences professor Craig Roberts addressing white faculty members.

“I wanted to discuss a few distinct points about racism from the perspective of a white professor who came to understand the magnitude, regularity and cultural nature of racism on our campus and in Columbia,” Roberts said in an email. “The journalists on the committee feel that these points could be packaged into 3-minute discussions.”

Through his own experiences and those of his white colleagues, Roberts said he will address the reasons white professors tend to have a poor understanding of racism.

Roberts said the committee is aware that racism extends beyond issues of black and white, but he is focusing on it because it has been the most prominent issue at MU.

His message will specifically address white faculty, but he intends for it to apply to the general white population, Roberts said.

Roberts said as a result of not suffering from constant, subtle racism due to their skin color, white people, including himself, have a hard time detecting racism, and white faculty members have a hard time believing racism to be as bad as their black colleagues say.

“White people tend to see racism in terms of lynching, physical abuse, bullying and other products of hate,” Roberts said. “Racism is more than the overt, blatant, extreme incidents.”

Roberts said the purpose of his message is to persuade the white population to invest time into exploring racism in depth.

Members of the committee have also begun meeting with small groups of faculty in different MU colleges and departments to share what they have learned and to encourage the creation of small race relations groups throughout campus, committee Chairman Berkley Hudson said.

Meanwhile, the committee is looking to replace senior Corie Wilkins and graduate student Jonathan Butler, who are both graduating next month, Hudson said. Committee member Stephanie Hernandez Rivera will be stepping down from the committee to enter a doctoral program.

“The committee will only work if it has a diverse group of people,” Hudson said. “It’s a matter of making the choice to be uncomfortable because there is a certain discomfort that occurs when you have to think about your point of view against someone else’s point of view.”

The committee consists of faculty with varying political, religious, ideological and ethnic backgrounds and identities, Hudson said.

“We have members that consider themselves Christian and members that consider themselves atheist,” Hudson said. “We’ve been trying to listen to each other’s stories and points of view — that was critical when we started and it became more critical considering what happened last last fall.”

The committee was formed in response to a December 2014 student-led call for action, holding administrators responsible for MU’s progress in conquering its “hostile racial environment.”

“As with many other places in America and the world, there is an ongoing murder of our collective spirit when we fail to take the time to listen to one another’s soul-breaking stories about race, ethnicity and culture,” Hudson wrote in a November commentary for Time magazine.

The Faculty Council Committee on Race Relations feels optimistic about the future, Hudson said.

“Why could there not be a Mizzou miracle: a miracle that asked a question,” Hudson said. “What would it take for Mizzou to become a local, national and global leader in race relations, teaching, research, service and economic development?”

Edited by Taylor Blatchford | tblatchford@themaneater.com

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