• Look within and speak out

    Tim Wise, anti-racist speaker and activist, addressed how we understand identity and how we can combat hurtful speech

By Rhianna Wisniewski
Photos by Jason Smith

When asked how to handle racist and discriminatory speech Monday night, anti-racist speaker and activist Tim Wise told students that silence is not the answer.

“Not responding gives the impressions that viewpoint holds a lot more worth than it holds,” he said. “If I’m an outsider looking in, and no one is responding, than I start to think that this is indicative of the institution’s typical student.”

Wise spoke to approximately 350 students at Mandel Hall Monday on issues of social justice in the US, white privilege, colorblindness, and combatting racism and discrimination. His talk was the one of many events meant to foster dialogue as part of a new Campus and Student Life diversity initiative.

During his speech, Wise shared personal stories, statistics, and historical context about racism and discriminatory behavior in the US. He also took to task student actions, such as hanging a confederate flag from a window across from the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs or posting hurtful speech anonymously on a Facebook page, which send messages of racism and hate to the community.

Wise’s blatant honesty and in-your-face style of speaking seemed to resonate with students, who burst into applause at various points throughout his talk. For Abdul Dosunma, a fourth year in the College studying political science, Wise’s talk was reassuring. Dosunma has been involved in conversations on campus about race, diversity, and inclusion, and he said that Wise reiterated some important points about the importance of discussing race, gender, class, and other identifiers as a greater community.

“This was a compelling conversation for our campus,” Dosunma said. “We often shy away from racism and it doesn’t come up.”

Dosunma and other students were encouraged that the University held such a conversation, although students and staff also recognized that there is much more work to be done on a personal, community, and institutional level.

In discussing how to combat hurtful speech on campus, Wise challenged students and staff to reflect on their own identities, including their membership in dominant social groups, and to think about how they see the world through lenses formed by those identities.

“We bring our lenses to what we’re saying and what we’re thinking and how we’re evaluating our social reality, and we don’t even know we have a lens,” explained Wise. “It is hard to build community and institutional change when everyone is coming at these issues from a different place.”

He also encouraged students to intervene in hurtful or racist speech and to open themselves up to learning about cultures outside of their own.

“A lot of the work that we need to do is challenging normativity among white culture,” Wise explained. “Listen by reading the words spoken by peoples of color, listening to the words spoken by people of color. Listening to what women are saying, and listening to what working class people are saying.”

Wise spent an hour answering student questions following his keynote address. After the event concluded, approximately 75 students continued the conversation in small group discussion sessions led by students and staff at various locations in the Reynolds Club.

For more information on Diversity and Inclusion and how to participate in a broader dialogue at the University, visit CSL’s Diversity and Inclusion website.

This event was sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities, Spiritual Life, Office of International Affairs, Campus and Student Life.