• Tara Smith LeDay ’14, presenting her capstone project.
  • Tara Smith LeDay ’14 with her capstone colleagues Taylor Moore and Joanna Hawkins.

Although Southwestern University houses one of the country’s most diverse liberal arts communities, diversity groups on campus continue to shed even more light on racial justice. Part of that process included the University’s first Race and Ethnicity Symposium, held January 20–21 and hosted by the Race and Ethnicity Studies (RES) minor, the Diversity Enrichment Committee, the Americas: North by South Paideia cluster, and the Office of Diversity Education.       

The interdisciplinary symposium, organized by Junior Tori Vasquez and Assistant Professor of Philosophy Omar Rivera, spotlighted campus members’ research on topics about racial and ethnic discrimination. The presentations spanned two sessions, each culminating in a question and answer session between audience members and speakers.

“We wanted MLK (Martin Luther King Jr.) week to showcase research in racial and ethnic discrimination from Southwestern professors and alumni,” said Rivera. “The event was conceived as a way of sharing with the University at large the kinds of discussions that are taking place in courses included in the RES minor.”

Rivera opened the symposium by introducing race and ethnicity studies as a means to dissolve barriers within global issues. He also encouraged the audience to speak with rather than about diverse individuals, especially at a uniquely diverse liberal arts school like Southwestern.

The program included presentations by professors, who shared research that exemplifies racial conversation. Part-time Assistant Professor of Sociology Melissa Quintela presented her research on researchers and participants sharing racial identities. Assistant Professor of English Carina Evans introduced her research on slave narratives in the Williamson County. And, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Dustin Tahmahkera discussed the “screening” (exposing and censoring) of Comanche culture in Western films.

While the first portion of the symposium focused on ways to converse across races, the second exposed the dangers in avoiding racial conversation.

Recent alumna Tara Smith LeDay ’14, presented her capstone project in which supposedly color-blind court members perpetuate racism in the justice system. Assistant Professor of Sociology Reggie Byron presented data reflecting anti-black sentiments in housing and employment, while Professor of Sociology Maria Lowe expounded upon similarly racist dissent in neighborhood emails—data for research that she and alumnae Angela Stroud ’04, and Alice Nguyen ’14, currently conduct. Brenda Sendejo, assistant professor of anthropology, offered a solution to racism by describing her research on interpersonal affective connection as a way to spiritually heal victims of social injustice.

“I think the informal yet rigorous kinds of discussions that took place during the symposium were quite unique,” said Rivera. He encouraged attendees to suggest ways to improve existing conversations about race and ethnicity; for example, he has received expressions of interest in including talks about more underrepresented groups such as Jewish Americans, Asian Americans, and others. “There is so much more we could do,” he says, “so I am looking forward to getting input from students and faculty about this.”       

With the addition of the Race and Ethnicity Symposium to Southwestern’s MLK celebrations, Southwestern continues to develop progressive interdisciplinary discussions.

By Amy Gu