Professor Organizes New Series of Dialogues on Race
Issue   |   Tue, 03/01/2016 - 23:54

Students gathered at the Center for Humanistic Inquiry in Frost Library for a discussion on class, race and affirmative action on Sunday, Feb. 28. This was the third meeting in a series of “Dialogues about Race” organized by professor of philosophy Jyl Gentlzer.

Gentzler said that she started the series after the events of Amherst Uprising, incorporating dialogue training that she had received from the college.

“I was so moved by what I had witnessed in the library that I thought it might be good for students to have opportunities to talk about how they felt and what their experiences were,” she said in an interview.

In order for students to talk openly about their feelings and their experiences, they were given guidelines before the discussion to facilitate the creation of an open space. These guidelines were designed with the aim of allowing the freest possible discourse.

“Some of [the guidelines] seem so self-evident that you shouldn’t have to say them,” Gentzler said. “But I do think it’s important to make them explicit so everyone knows that these are going to be norms that are accepted.”

Students then began discussing class and race with regards to the college admissions process. They made arguments in support of both class and race as considerations in college admissions.

Students noted an increasing trend of class consciousness. One student cited Amy Gutmann’s essay, “Should Public Policy be Class Conscious Rather than Color Conscious?” in which Gutman argues that focusing on class would be an effective approach of addressing both racial and class injustice.

Participants pointed to larger forces that enable discrimination and commented on the difficulty of being truly race blind. Some argued that it might be more of a claim than a reality in the society we currently live in.

The conversation then turned to diversity and its role at an elite institution. According to Professor Gentzler, the theme of diversity is a common one in these dialogues.

“What I hear at almost every one of these meetings is the frustration with the theory of diversity and the reality of diversity,” Gentzler said. “The theory is that we all interact and learn from one another, and students often express frustration that it doesn’t happen.”

Gentzler also said these dialogues on race embodied that very theory of diversity. She said that one thing she appreciated about the meeting was that “it seemed to exemplify the ideal of Amherst as people from all sorts of backgrounds that come together and share their experiences and views.”

The “Dialogues on Race” discussions series is open to all students. Its next meeting is scheduled for April 10 in the Center for Humanistic Inquiry.