Racial Justice Dialogues
As a way to bring conversations about racial justice to the forefront of our community members’ minds, the Center for Social Justice facilitates racial justice dialogues for the students, faculty, and staff of Georgetown University. Throughout the academic year, members of the Georgetown community are invited to be a part of these dialogues through which participants explore topics of race, racism, white supremacy, and identity, and learn together.
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 instiution’s community provided a helpful example for our way of proceeding.
The Center for Social Justice recognizes dialogue as an invitation to participants to be active and engaged deeply with the content through reflection on personal experiences and the sharing of perspectives with others. These multifaceted discussions offer each participant an opportunity to think critically about complicated topics, including whiteness and white privilege, microaggressions, identity and intersectionality, and the practice of centering race, among others.
Racial Justice Dialogues take place monthly during the fall and spring semesters and in the summer term led by CSJ team members and Justice Graduate Interns. 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.
For the Center for Social Justice team
The Center’s internal Racial Justice Working Group is composed of CSJ full-time team members who convene to discuss topical issues pertaining to the Center for Social Justice. They offer recommendations for learning, professional development, public statements, and whole team reading.
For Georgetown university faculty and staff
CSJ’s former Assistant Director of Student Leadership & Racial Justice Initiatives, Whitney Maddox, offered racial justice dialogues for Georgetown University faculty members and staff on request, outside of her position’s particular responsibilities. As of Summer 2021, the Center for Social Justice professional team will include an Associate Director, Racial Justice Initiatives. This position will continue to engage the CSJ community in Racial Justice Dialogues and will also be empowered to work on campus writ-large on racial justice dialogues, in collaboration with Georgetown colleagues with aligning responsibilities and commitments.
Contact CSJ’s Executive Director, Dr. Andria Wisler, for more information about CSJ’s Racial Justice Dialogues.
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)