In response to the often divisive diatribes concerning race
on campus over the past academic year, Emory faculty, staff and
students have taken a proactive approach to the subject in an attempt
not only to air some long-unspoken feelings but also to find some
Faculty, for instance, have met recently in small
groups to discuss diversity. The subject itself isn’t as important as the fact they have gotten together
at all—meeting face to face instead of delivering a monologue from some
sterile podium or beneath a boldface headline.
“Black and white faculty were not talking to each other,” said Daryll
Neill, professor of psychology, who along with Richard Doner (political science),
Eugene Emory (psychology) and Carole Hahn (educational studies) organized a series
of small-group faculty meetings centering on race. “But there was a
lot of public posturing in the newspapers.”
Shortly after the administration
imposed sanctions on Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Anthropology Carol Worthman
after she spoke a racial epithet at a departmental meeting last Sept. 15,
28 African American faculty and staff wrote an open letter to President Jim
Wagner describing a “hostile racial environment” at
Emory and offering several recommendations to address it—not posturing
really, but not dialogue, either.
One of the Doner group’s first tasks was to contact each of the Emory
College faculty members who signed that letter and invite them to racial
discussions. About a dozen accepted. In all more than 20 faculty members,
black and white, attended the first meeting, which opened with a simple
listening session. Whoever wanted to could speak uninterrupted and air
whatever thoughts they wished. The first one lasted two hours.
“There is a tendency for like-minded folks to preach to each other,” said
Doner, associate professor of political science. “This is dangerous
for several reasons. It leads to polarization; it allows all sides
to avoid confronting complex issues and tradeoffs; and it often reinforces
Emory, professor of psychology, took things one step further.
He invited Worthman and Tracy Rone, assistant professor of anthropology
and the faculty member who filed the discriminatory harassment
complaint against Worthman with the Office of Equal Opportunity
Programs, to separate sessions of his “Stereotypes,
Prejudice and Discrimination” seminar, and each gave a powerful
presentation. The class wrote an essay about it (see story).
Two full meetings, led by Emory as well, were held on campus along with a couple
of dinner meetings involving the four principles. Doner and Neill have prepared
a report and soon will present it to Wagner.
Neill said he hopes discussions like these can continue, perhaps on
a departmental level, adding he learned a great deal from his African
American colleagues. “African
American faculty on the issues of race have different expectations of Emory than
white faculty,” he said. “Much of this has to do with the rich history
of Atlanta’s black community. But in Atlanta and Georgia, you
cannot ignore black and white.”
Faculty lobbying for more discussion manifested itself in interesting
ways. At a college faculty meeting earlier this semester, Doner was
discussing the college faculty groups and said their scope should be
widened to include staff, students and other faculty. Beverly Schaffer,
professor of economics and director of the violence studies program,
volunteered to help. Violence studies had been working on issues of
conflict, and Schaffer felt the program could contribute to the discussion.
Schaffer asked David Hooker, a third-year graduate student in
the Candler School of Theology, to mediate the dialogues. Hooker
also holds a law degree and a master’s
in public health and owns his own mediation company, so he was a
Around 220 faculty, staff and students attended the five meetings in March and
April (the first four were for faculty and staff; the April 15 event was an invitation-only
event geared toward students). First they met in small groups, then those groups
produced thoughts for discussion on index cards. All comments were anonymous,
which Schaffer hoped would make everyone more comfortable and open.
“I sought to keep the atmosphere positive,” Schaffer said. “I
didn’t want the focus to be only on the problems, but to
focus importantly on solutions.”
“I thought the fact that these discussions took place at all, in and of
itself, was positive,” Hooker said. “The range of opinion
about the quality of the racial climate at Emory varies significantly.
Even among those who are well-informed, there is a difference of
opinion as to what the climate looks like, what it should look
like, and how much attention should be paid to it.”
Schaffer also will meet with Wagner to provide both a summary of
the five meetings and an archive of the comments attendees provided—50 pages’ worth.
“Our goal is to show not only what the concerns are, but the depth of those
concerns and how people express them,” Schaffer said.
Students, too, have taken action. According to Donna Wong, associate
director of Multicultural Programs and Services (her office assisted
both the Doner and Schaffer groups), one of students’ biggest concerns is self-segregation
on campus—Emory is diverse, but students often congregate
with peers of their own race or ethnicity, she said.
To combat this self-segregation, the Multicultural Council, made
up of 45 campus cultural and ethnic organizations, has encouraged
clubs to co-sponsor at least two events a semester during the 2004–05 academic year. Wong added that
next year more than 50 freshmen will have the opportunity to attend a “diversity
crossroads retreat,” which will include peer leaders and
counselors from Harmony, a freshman diversity organization.