Culture Teach-in crowds Union

Members of the Geneseo community from all backgrounds and races overflowed the College Union Ballroom on Sunday, March 9 to discuss how Geneseo's "chilly climate" refers to more than just the weather.

The Race and Campus Culture Teach-in began at 2 p.m., as students reminded attendees what the Teach-in's principle was: "to critically examine and reflect on key historical, contemporary, and local issues related to racism," according to the event's Web site. Following that, a group of students delivered a presentation entitled "Conflicted Histories: Geneseo and the Struggle for Justice," which outlined the college's history with racism.

The presentation, part of an ongoing project which began in spring 2006, assessed Geneseo's historical and present capacity for having a "chilly climate," which the college's diversity Web site describes as an environment not "open and welcoming [to people and groups] based on their race, color, religious practices, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, age, gender or disability."

Highlights of the presentation included recordings of the fall 2007 speech by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, the 1998 Commencement address given by Ysyae Barnwell, a black graduate of Geneseo who received her master's degree in 1968, and Lamron opinion articles of decades ago that had blatantly racist tones. Also included were recent Lamron articles dealing with the issue.

After the presentation, senior Jasmine Montgomery - whom English professor and planning committee member Beth McCoy described as "key to this whole process" - summed up the tone of the event by reading from her facilitator essay.

"As conscious of and enlightened about race as I consider myself to be...I needed the teach-in readings and facilitator and planning committee meetings to understand for myself and vocalize to others how deeply our inherited beliefs and attitudes about race run," Montgomery said.

Before breaking up into groups in which facilitators led conversations on racism and diversity, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Katherine Conway-Turner cautioned attendees to be respectful of one another. McCoy then briefly explained the discussion period's proceedings.

"We have a really wonderful turn-out," she said, emphasizing that there were such a large number of attendees that some groups would need to hold their discussions outside of the Ballroom. McCoy explained that each facilitator possessed a "Pikachu [doll to signify] mindfulness and consideration" that would serve as a warning for those who were taking up too much "conversational space."

The discussions remained tranquil and the Pikachus abandoned as participants delved into topics such as curriculum change, white privilege, blackface and thug-theme parties, all of which were complemented by the suggested readings available on ERes prior to the teach-in.

"There wasn't a lot of debate because everyone seemed to be on the same page," said senior Don Wisniewski. He added that "it was an interesting experience. The professors and students were very involved."

Freshman Cathy Bijur shared similar sentiments.

"I thought the Teach-in was a step in the right direction," Bijur said. "The discussion I was in brought up some really important issues, but now we have to see if we can actually apply the discussed ideas to a broader context."

Facilitator and psychology professor Monica Schneider emphasized the need to continue working toward the Teach-in's goals.

"One of the things I hope we can do is translate what we do in here into outside of here," Schneider said.

The teach-in concluded on a positive note, with students, faculty and administrators reading suggestions for ways that participants can continue the Teach-in process in the future. President Christopher Dahl thanked the facilitators, faculty and planning committee involved in the making the Teach-in possible.

"Let's keep the work going," he said.

McCoy also praised the organizers of the Teach-in.

"I'm just so proud of these hard-working students, faculty... and the community members who participated and carried themselves beautifully," she said.

The Teach-in was put on through the support of the Office of the Provost, Milne Library, Residence Life, the Office of Multicultural Programs and the Africana/black studies program.