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New Office of RACE engages Emory community in dialogue around race, culture, and social justice

December 5, 2017

By S.A. Reid, Contributing Writer, Campus Life Communications

Dialogue about race and culture on Emory’s campus just got a promotion and new title: Office for Racial and Cultural Engagement – or RACE.

The new office succeeded the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services (OMPS) in August and is building on the many contributions that OMPS made to the Emory community.


Huizinga and studentRobinson (left) and Del Valle (center) meet with Jada Large 21C, a human health major and a
programming assistant in the Office of RACE. (Photo credit: Tina Chang)

The name RACE reflects an interest in moving away from the amorphous “multicultural” to specifically name the kind of work it’s doing around race and culture. The inclusion of the term “culture” was intentional, as Tiffany Del Valle, RACE associate director, explains.

“Race is almost exclusively viewed in this country through a cultural lens, so it’s not about excluding culture,” she says. “It’s about adding race and making it a focal point.”

The change is mainly the result of feedback gathered through a campus-wide assessment and student, faculty, and staff focus groups. The national social-political climate also played a role, as did current trends in higher education.

“We are just moving toward conversations specifically about race,” Del Valle says. "Our goal is to build inclusive and racially just communities, to encourage inquiry on the nature of race and its impact on the individual, cultural, and communal development.”

RACE operates, says Del Valle, under three guiding principles: free expression, curiosity, and racial justice. Through innovative programming, RACE aims to create opportunities and safe spaces for discussions on campus, especially about race.

Racial tensions throughout American society, particularly after last year’s national election, and black student demands in fall 2015 for more support for people of color on campus have helped fuel interest in dialogue.

“The overall tone around race is something people are not shying away from talking about,” says Malcolm J. Robinson 15C, RACE program coordinator and former OMPS staff member. “It’s just that sometimes the conversations can be a bit tense because of what’s going on.”

Taking a constructivist approach, RACE seeks to explore racial identity and how race affects students’ everyday lives. The hope is that such dynamic dialogue will lead to improved understanding, diversity, and inclusion in all of its forms at Emory. Other goals are to positively impact students’ personal and cultural development and to cultivate change agents and leaders.

Avenues for discussion

“I think it’s fitting that the office is called RACE,” said Zariah Embry, a sophomore philosophy major. “It’s really focusing on getting into what is race, breaking it down, and giving people avenues to discuss it.”

One such avenue is Breaking Bread, a signature program in partnership with Emory Dining that brings together a group of about a dozen students to explore issues of race over a three-course meal. RACE plans to hold these inter-racial/cross-cultural dialogue opportunities on Sundays three times a semester. Two events have been hosted this fall, with a third set for November 19. Interested students must apply to participate.

Kayla Harris, a participant in the inaugural dinner, says the experience helped her to realize that everybody has their own story.

“I was really impressed by the end of this dinner,” says Harris, a psychology major who believes it’s “a creative way to have this type of discussion on campus.”

Embry agrees. “Even if you don’t leave the conversation believing what they believe and feeling what they feel, you at least understand why they feel that way, which is what I think was productive,” she says.

Another signature program underway is Community Conversations, weekly student-facilitated discussion groups for multiracial and African-American students.

Additional marquee programs in the planning stages include a visual arts exhibition and program, Arts, Atlanta, and Activism, planned for March 22 to explore the intersection of art and racial justice.

Robinson says RACE’s work already is generating interest in more engaging, meaningful, and innovative conversations.

“That’s one thing I noticed,” adds Robinson. “The other thing is that students are finding it easier to talk about [race] because they are looking at some of the more innovative programming we’re doing and thinking about what their organizations can do, what type of programming effort their communities can do, not just about race but social justice in general as well.”

RACE is part of Campus Life’s Community Portfolio. The new office, which has a search underway for an executive director, will play an increasingly vital role in the university’s commitment to realizing a more socially just campus community.

Additional resources

Learn more about RACE or get involved, email: race@emory.edu

Visit RACE on social media: https://www.facebook.com/emoryRACE/

Sign up for RACE listserv for updates: http://omps.campuslifetech.org/forms/view.php?id=21815

Learn more about Breaking Bread dialogue: race@emory.edu

Sign up for Breaking Bread dialogue: http://omps.campuslifetech.org/forms/view.php?id=22562