By Jennifer McDonell
On Saturday, Nov. 22, The Black Student Alliance hosted “The Talk: The War on Silence” in Upper Baldwin. “The Talk” consisted of a panel of Albion students and faculty that answered questions about race, stereotypes, sexuality and other issues present on campus. Questions were provided by ethnic studies students on campus, and also collected fish-bowl style from the audience.
The Black Student Alliance (BSA) decided to hold “The Talk” instead of their usual Kwanza celebration. BSA president LaReesia Hollis, Bloomfield Hills sophomore, said that the BSA decided it wouldn’t make sense to hold a Kwanzaa celebration if students on campus couldn’t appreciate cultural differences between students.
“If someone doesn’t understand the culture, they do not understand Kwanzaa. Not everyone celebrates Kwanzaa, but everyone can learn something new with the topics we will discuss tonight,” Hollis said. “To better understand the events that BSA orchestrates, we felt as though this event was necessary to convey and make diversity more acceptable on this campus.”
The questions the panel discussed consisted of all-encompassing themes that members of the panel and audience could relate to. The panel talked about their personal experiences with facing stereotypes, and offered suggestions on how to make Albion a safe and comfortable place to talk about issues of race and discrimination.
“The Talk” provided an outlet for students from different groups on campus to share their thoughts and experiences relating to discrimination due to ethnicity, birthplace and sexuality. The goal was to reach mutual understanding through the panel’s answers, that would hopefully provide a jumping-off point for future discussions.
Audience members were invited to engage by writing down questions on sheets given to each table. They were collected and read aloud at the end of the event. This allowed a connecting dialogue between the panel and audience, to bounce ideas and thoughts off of each other’s statements.
Dr. Dominick Quinney, a visiting professor on campus, served as one of the panel’s facilitators and gathered questions from students in his ethnic studies courses. He recited a prayer to start off the event. He asked the audience to pay libations to many great leaders in progressive thought, including some who died in recent years. The audience repeated the word, “ashay,” which means “let it be” and is a common word used in Kwanzaa ceremonies to ask our ancestors to join us. He recited a list featuring names like James Welton, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Donald Byrd, Chinua Achebe and Robin Williams.
“The Talk” started off by asking the panel members what stereotypes affected their lives. Craig Kreger, Albion senior, responded that he faces judgment based on being from the city of Albion. He pointed to the use of the word, “townie,” to describe city residents and how he felt this was particularly unfair.
Langston Pugh, a Detroit senior, recalled an experience he had at a fraternity party on campus where a student came up to him and his friends and sang a rap song, expecting that he would know the words because of his race.
Another question the panel asked was, “Do you see yourself as a spokesperson for your ethnic group?,” and they received similar answers. The panel’s consensus was that you cannot speak on behalf of your entire race, and it is not correct to make general assumptions that someone is an expert on their ethnic culture due to their racial identity.
Corrine Cuevas, Chicago sophomore, commented that she has been approached with questions about which of her recent family members immigrated to the United States because she is a Latina woman. She explains assumptions like this are completely unwarranted; her family identifies as American, and has for generations.
Baldwin kitchen staff cooked a southern-style buffet dinner. It featured spicy fried catfish, turkey, macaroni and cheese, yams, collard greens, corn bread and a dessert table of pies and cobblers. Audience and panel members ate dinner while videos played in the background. One featured slam poets from the CUPS 2014 event, reciting verses concerning race, college and isolation from your peers due to race.The other was a Harvard video featuring black students talking about their experiences and thoughts on being confident in yourself and dealing with cultural ignorance from their peers.
Sonic Boom, a local dance group, coached by Detroit senior Ebonie Williams, choreographed a dance for the event. The dance featured music by Tupac and Kendrick Lamar. Students from the college, as well as Albion residents performed in the number.
Photo by Spencer White