Framing of Race Series Seeks to Address Oppression

Oliver Bok, Editor in Chief

While a distinguished speaker giving a talk on an important social issue might not be new at Oberlin, the event series that sponsored this talk, The Framing of Race, is.

Duke Professor Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, author of Racism Without Racists, delivered a talk titled “The Diversity Blues: Reframing the Diversity Agenda at Historically White Colleges and Universities” Thursday night.

The Framing of Race is the 2016 theme for Think/Create/Engage, a new annual series that will focus on a different theme each calendar year.

“The major objective of this series is to be a clearinghouse for all the things that are actually happening on campus,” said Wendy Kozol, chair of Comparative American Studies and co-chair of the Steering Committee for The Framing of Race. “[People] say, ‘Nobody’s talking about race.’ But in fact, there’s tons of people talking about race.”

The main goal of The Framing of Race is to promote and support events related to the topic, allowing people to see every event that relates to race on the series’ website, for example.

“We’re on a busy campus, so it’s not that we want to do more, we want to get more out of what we’re doing,” said Jan Miyake, Music Theory professor and Steering Committee co-chair.

According to interim Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, the choice of topic was partially a response to student activism following the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014.

“The idea came about during the semester that was the start of significant student involvement in this round of anti-Black racism, police killings, etc. that culminated in the petition to suspend the grading system,” Raimondo said.

To Kozol, the idea is to bring all of the College’s facilities to bear on a different issue each year.

“How do we have conversations about really difficult issues like race?” Kozol said. “What we do on this campus — what we as faculty, what we as students, what we as staff do — is create opportunities for intellectual engagement, political engagement, social engagement around these really difficult issues. What we need to do is foster those kinds of conversations.”

Raimondo agreed, stating that series will help community members get more out of the events the College already has to offer. 
“For people who were already thinking about doing events or having workshops, they could link it to this format,” Raimondo said. “And people who wanted to be part of an ongoing conver- sation would be able to see, ‘Oh, this is another place I can go to explore the issues that I’m interested in, perhaps from a different perspective.’”

To College sophomore and Student Senator Kameron Dunbar, however, students have yet to embrace the initiative.

“To my knowledge there has not been much student engagement with the project,” Dunbar wrote in an email to the Review. “It’s a bit [tough] — a good idea that didn’t quite workout due to lack of student enthusiasm and awareness.“

In future years, Think/Create/Engage might expand beyond promoting events. Kozol said that administrators would also like the series to provide a space for conversations to happen between events, as well as inform students of all the classes that tie into the year’s theme during registration.

“Ideally, what this initiative is encouraging is fostering of deeper conversations,” Kozol said. “Michele Norris’s talk was great, but now what?”

The Framing of Race Steering Committee has distributed some small grants — funded by President Marvin Krislov’s office — to support events related to the topic. While it’s unclear if next year’s Think/Create/Engage series will also have funding, for Raimondo the funding is an added bonus, not the point.

“It wasn’t designed to be something that had to create additional budget constraints, it’s a way to organize the stuff that we already do,” Raimondo said.

The Steering Committee wanted the series to tackle a broader range of issues around race than simply Black and white issues in the U.S., which is why they helped support bringing Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit-American woman, to talk about the caste system in India to relate it to American conceptions of race last semester.

“The Framing of Race references the historical, political, economic, cultural and social processes that have produced both white supremacy and the violent enslavement, genocide, and oppression of diverse groups of marginalized peoples,” members of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion wrote in an email to students in September.

Raimondo said that the topic for 2017’s Think/Create/Engage series is still undecided and anyone who would like to be involved should reach out.