Georgetown University Women of Color hosted its annual “Race at Georgetown” dialogue in an effort to discuss issues of race and diversity within the larger campus community in the Intercultural Center Auditorium on Tuesday night.
The event was held in conjunction with the “What’s a Hoya?” initiative, focusing on freshman participation, and involved polling and panelists. Approximately 120 audience members were present and able to openly voice their own opinions and questions.
GUWOC is an organization dedicated to providing women of color a space to both gather and network with one another, in addition to providing a platform for the discussion of race and ethnicity.
According to GUWOC Outreach Chair Courtney Maduike (SFS ’17), the event’s theme was “Are You Woke?” The phrase, slang for being socially aware, emphasizes the importance of bridging divides through greater dialogue and awareness.
“I think it’s just the awareness and the fact that the theme for the event for this year is “‘Are You Woke?’”, Maduike said. “It’s this awareness and consciousness that being sympathetic and sensitive to these topics, and building this sense of solidarity and community across these kind of categorizations.”
The event began with opening remarks from moderators Maduike and GUWOC Treasurer Ashlie Williams (MSB ’17), in addition to a video of Yale University students protesting their community’s racial injustices and allegations of discrimination.
Following the video, student panelists Ayo Aruleba (COL ’17), Asha Thanki (SFS ’17), Gilda Gallardo (COL ’17) and Tanner Davis (SFS ’17) presented to the audience their own views on race relations at Georgetown as well as their perspectives on ways for students to enhance the ongoing dialogue.
“Working closely with communities of color, but also as a leader, I would say communities of color are trying to bridge the gap,” Aruleba said. “In order to bring sides together, to bring a more inclusive Georgetown community, it’s going to take not only communities of color talking about race. I think everyone has to come to the table.”
Davis emphasized how he became active in dialogue dealing with issues of race and the treatment of minorities after returning from studying abroad.
“I was never really conscious of my race or my whiteness until I studied abroad in [India], and I was a minority there for four months as a white person,” Davis said. “Getting stared at, getting looked at and feeling uncomfortable in social situations, and coming back here after having that experience has really shaped the way I understand how a minority might feel.”
Over the course of the discussion, GUWOC also used a polling system that allowed audience members to answer questions from their phones. Their answers would then subsequently appear on the projector screen in a word cloud with the most popular answers enlarged.
The addition of polling to the overall discussion was part of a broader effort to make sure the dialogue incorporated as much student opinion as possible. Davis explained that discussions on issues of race and discrimination do not happen as often as they should because people can see such dialogues as difficult.
“Having these conversations never really happened in any campus organization I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here,” Davis said. “And when they have, we would talk to each other like ‘This makes us uncomfortable, we don’t want to be talking about this.’”
The panelists continued to explore their own relationship with race-related dialogue, with Gallardo giving an anecdote on how she was treated during a rally in Red Square in November, which called for the name changes of former Mulledy and McSherry Halls, now known as Freedom and Remembrance Halls, respectively.
Gallardo explained how, during a time when students were invited to speak into the microphone and give their own views during the rally, she encountered pushback and criticism.
“I had been the object of critique in one of the classes because I had gone up [to the mic] when they invited people to come forward and share their experiences as minorities with race. The critique was that was not my place or my time to share that experience,” Gallardo said. “I thought that was interesting, but at the same time that invitation was for everybody to share their experiences.”
A student in the audience asked how others could stand with minorities and those facing racial discrimination simply by being active on social media. Aruleba said it is critical for students to read from experts and writers who continue to comment on the issues facing minorities today.
“Especially in this age where there are a lot of movements going on, I would encourage people to do reading on the topics because a part of the movement is being woke,” Aruleba said. “The best advocates of racial justice and the best people to talk on these issues are those who understand, so it’s important to read the discourse on what’s really going on, especially with these issues.”
Thanki said students should move past social media activism by creating tangible change in their communities.
“You can post a status update and still be totally ignorant to the injustices that you see in the world around you,” Thanki said. “So post a status update if you want to, but then take a moment, look around you and see what else you need to do.”
Thanki added that simple acts and efforts on the part of individuals can make significant progress when it comes to assisting those affected by an issue.
“Listen, be genuine and care,” Thanki said. “Those things are so simple-sounding, but the only way to be a true ally, no matter what context, is to hear what people are asking of you instead of not just deciding for yourself what is being asked of you.”
Afras Sial (COL ’19), who attended the event, said he has been involved in dialogues dealing with issues of race and discrimination in the past, but appreciated the value in holding such conversations for those not engaged in the issues.
“I was expecting it to be more structured, for them to have topics specific to Georgetown instead of small anecdotes and large themes,” Sial said. “I didn’t get any new information out of it personally, but it was helpful for people who have not been exposed to the topic before.”
Deniz Yuksel (SFS ’19) said she was happy to see more individuals interact with the topic of race.
“Many people here have their social circles determined by what club they’re in … and friend groups are mostly of the same race, too. It’s bad, and naturally people gravitate to people who look like them,” Yuksel said. “But it’s good that it’s now being noticed, good that people are paying attention to it.”
Winslow Radcliffe-Trenner (SFS ’19) applauded the event’s focus but wished the event itself allowed for more intimate discussion.
“In its objective of making people woke, it was effective because it opened my eyes and the eyes of others to specific issues of racism at Georgetown,” Radcliffe-Trenner said. “But in terms of progressing the conversation, I’m not sure how it went. A conversation has to be a conversation, and there was not really an opportunity to speak back to someone in particular.”
Toward the event’s conclusion, Gallardo emphasized the importance of not being afraid to speak one’s beliefs and engage in issues that may appear difficult at first. She asserted that action needed to be coupled with purpose for effective change to take place.
“Make your beliefs heard. There’s a Japanese proverb: ‘Vision without action is a dream, and action without vision is a nightmare,’” Gallardo said.