By Indira Rahman II Contributing Writer
Last Tuesday, the Diplomatic Congress (DipCon) hosted the F&M Forum on Discrimination, the second event in the F&M Forums Series, in the Brooks College House Great Room. Despite adverse weather conditions, 65 participants from the student body, faculty, and professional staff attended, including Margaret Hazlett, dean of the College; Marion Coleman, assistant dean for Multicultural Affairs; Maria Flores-Milles, Senior Associate Dean of the College; and Keely Johnston, crime prevention officer for the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Margaret Babson ’15 began the forum by presenting research regarding intolerance on campus and how students of various racial backgrounds experienced discrimination. According to the findings, black and Hispanic students felt least positive about F&M’s racial climate, while white and Asian students felt considerably more that there is underreporting with regard to Asian students.
The freestyle, student driven discussion that followed was moderated by Charley Hagist ’18, a member of Dip-Con and a representative of the College Entertainment Committee (CEC), which covered topics such as racial discrimination, gay rights, women’s rights, as well as the institutional disadvantages some students face when it comes to purchasing expensive course materials or gaining access to social networks, like fraternities or sororities, due to socioeconomic inequality.
Then, in a panel-style discussion, Linda Hasunuma, assistant professor of government, and Ashley Rondini, visiting assistant professor of sociology, fielded students’ questions about issues various minority groups face on campus.
Participants in the forum offered a number of steps to take at both the personal and institutional levels. DipCon is currently dedicated to investigating institutional solutions, such as discussing the inclusion of diversity training and programming focused on diversity during First- Year Orientation; investigating curricula at other institutions that include classes on acceptance and diversity; partnering with other campus organizations to combat harmful discriminatory language and attitudes; and exploring new opportunities for LGBTQIA programs.
“Expressing care seemed to be the salient point of the forum,” said David Song ’16, a philosophy major from South Korea. “So at the personal level, intentionally being friends with people from different backgrounds—even those who don’t see eye to eye with me on these issues—would be a good start. Regular interaction will open up the space for approaching these issues in a more conversational manner, rather than just talking past each other.”
The goal of all events in DipCon’s F&M Forums Series is to make use of the College Houses as a third space where students, faculty, and administrators can have their voices heard on important community issues—in this case, discrimination—in a constructive manner. The topics for discussion at the forums were chosen by a focus group of students themselves in a poll conducted by DipCon over Winter Break to determine the issues most pertinent to them.
“Of course, not everyone we want to engage [through these forums] will be in attendance,” said Mark T. Harmon- Vaught ’15, president of DipCon. “For this reason, it falls to the engaged students who do attend to continue the conversation in their daily lives, by engaging with their peers—we have the greatest potential to affect positive change by creating a ripple effect in this way.”
Spring 2015 will see four more events in the F&M Forums Series. The next forum will take place on Tuesday, February 17, and will discuss mental health, wellness, and academic stress.
First-year Indira Rahman is a contributing writer. Her email is irahman@ fandm.edu. Photos by Sophomore Emma Brown.