Critical Conversations on Race

The role of Jesuit education is to align our head (thoughts), heart (values), and hand (actions). Using the pedagogy of dialogue and grounded in the Jesuit mission, Critical Conversations on Race in its pilot year will support students with exploring and making meaning of their lives and experiences through the lens of race while examining how race impacts each of us on an individual, group, and systemic level. Each year our goal will be to support students in building what Paulo Freire termed “critical consciousness” and what Adrienne Maree Brown calls “critical connections” over the course of a year. 

Critical Conversations on Race will use a cohort model for learning. This dialogue series is intended to be progressive and iterative. University of San Francisco Law Professor Rhonda Magee states that “Racial justice cannot exist apart from the effort to alleviate the socially constructed, unevenly distributed suffering of all marginalized people, or what I would call ‘social justice.’ And social justice cannot exist apart from racial justice.” This dialogue series centered on race is the critical first step in the process of building awareness, knowledge, and skills to create impactful change. The goal of Critical Conversations on Race is to help Georgetown students build awareness, knowledge, and skills to take action grounded in racial and social justice.

The fall 2022 semester sessions content will provide a solid foundational understanding exploring the  topics of racial identity and cultural humility; and the spring semester sessions will explore the concepts of racial justice and the spectrum of allyship and accompliceship.

Background

As Georgetown University began its long-term, and ongoing process to more deeply understand and respond to the University’s role in the injustice of slavery and the legacies of enslavement and segregation in our country, the Center for Social Justice similarly recognized its own positionality and responsibility as part of this public reconciliation. The CSJ team agreed to a Center-wide commitment to racial justice, with an initial focus on our internal organization.  

In Fall 2019, the Center for Social Justice integrated STAR: Start Talking about Race dialogues as a required component for CSJ student leaders, under the leadership of then Assistant Director, Student Leadership & Racial Justice Initiatives, Whitney Maddox. The format and pedagogy or these dialogues were influenced by several inspirations, including the Program on Intergroup Relations at University of Michigan, which is designed to “[blend] theory and experiential learning to facilitate students’ learning about social group identity, social inequality, and intergroup relations.” Moreover, the experience of our colleagues at our Jesuit peer, Loyola University Maryland, to mandate racial justice training through their institution’s community provided a helpful example for our way of proceeding.  

In November 2021, the CSJ hired Lionell Daggs III, our inaugural Associate Director, Racial Justice Initiatives. After an intense several months of active listening and learning, Lionell created the Critical Conversations on Race (CCoR) dialogue series for Hoya student leaders in the Center for Social Justice. For questions on CCoR, contact Lionell at ld844 (AT) georgetown.edu.

For students

Critical Conversations on Race will take place in September and October of the fall 2022 semester. These dialogues are required for CSJ students in a leadership position, including students who have allocated their Federal Work Study to their work or volunteer as DC Reads/DC STEM, DC Schools Project, ASK coordinators and Jumpstart Team Leaders; ABSO and ABP Board Members; SIPS Executive Committee members; Center Operations Interns; and FOCI leaders and captains.

FAQs on Critical Conversations on Race

Students are asked to please read the FAQs on Critical Conversations on Race for Fall 2022.

Testimonials

As a white person who tries to stay aware of social justice issues, I have learned a lot about the impacts of race and racism in our society. However, gaining this intellectual knowledge about things like mass incarceration, housing discrimination, and educational inequality did not automatically mean that I felt comfortable discussing race, especially within a racially diverse group of people.  Thankfully, this past school year, I had the opportunity to challenge my discomfort around talking about race by participating in monthly STAR conversations. As these conversations progressed over the course of the year, I realized that I had been deeply missing the opportunity to talk about race.  Race seems to be the elephant in the room in so many different situations, and through these STAR conversations, I learned that it is really valuable for everyone to address that elephant and really interrogate why we feel so uncomfortable about race relations. Although I am still not in the place of feeling deeply comfortable talking about race, I learned a lot about the importance of acknowledging the impact of race, rather than ignoring and avoiding it.  These conversations were immensely valuable to me and I will carry what I learned from them with me for the rest of my life.

– Emma Berk (COL ‘20)

When I first started ‘talking about race’ at STAR meetings, I quickly realized that I was very uncomfortable and that I didn’t know how to talk about race. Growing up in a racially mixed family, I was raised under the implicit notion that race ‘didn’t matter.’ This couldn’t have been further from the truth. STAR has given me the opportunity to reflect on and acknowledge the ways I benefit from white-privilege. I am passionate about STAR because I believe that staying silent about race is an extremely common and harmful way of perpetuating systemic racism. Engaging in STAR conversations has been one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had at Georgetown. 

– Julianna Thompson (NHS ‘21)

As a man of color, the opportunity to speak candidly about race and its impact on my life has given me space to think critically about my role in my various communities. STAR has asked of me and my peers the difficult questions, and we have had to specifically participate in a discussion about race without needing to censor our own thoughts. In this space, I have been able to identify the obstacles to understanding and anti-racism in my Latinx family and friend groups. This is relevant every day of my life, but it is exceedingly so as the Black Lives Matter movement remains at the forefront of our nation’s awareness. The timing is fortuitous, but our dialogue in STAR makes clear to every participant that thinking about one’s own race is continuous work. Our gatherings have prompted conversation about the current situation. They have also made students plan for their futures – analyzing how race will come into play in their careers, academics, and life beyond Georgetown. From the feedback I have heard from others, STAR is a place for invaluable self-reflection. Discomfort and learning are encouraged.

– Erick Castro (CSJ staff member)