Marchers in Ferguson, Missouri

Marchers in Ferguson, Missouri


U of A Talks Race



by Meaghan Blanchard

During the 2015-16 school year, several groups will come together to discuss racial issues within the United States. The program “U of A Talks Race” will foster open conversation and education for students, faculty and staff about racial issues.

U of A Talks Race centers on a communal hope for peace and acceptance. Racial tensions play a large role in students’ lives, and the program is designed to begin an ongoing discussion that many students and community members wish to have.

The program, led by Charles Robinson, vice chancellor for diversity and community, Pearl Dowe, associate professor of political science, and Yvette Murphy-Erby, Fulbright College associate dean of social sciences, includes a series of events that will highlight racial tensions in America that were illustrated in the events of Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri. All three scholars have backgrounds in diversity studies, making them experts on issues of race still prevalent in America.

“U of A Talks Race was inspired by the desire of some of our faculty and staff to use the recently publicized incidents involving the police and the death of black men to start a campus-wide dialogue about the continued significance of race,” Robinson said. “The hope is that students, staff and faculty will develop a better understanding of how racial issues still affect American society.”

“For African Americans, across the nation this is a personal issue,” Dowe said. “Because of everything that had been happening over the past few years, it seems that there’s been an increasing amount of racial animus. Even from a scholarly perspective, we know there is a long history of racial animus towards African Americans that exceeds what is expressed towards other racial and ethnic groups. During the incidents last fall, Ferguson and Eric Garner, I reached out to the administration and deans and stated my concern that the university was missing a great educational opportunity if we did not develop programs and have sustained dialogue around these issues.”

 “As an institution of higher learning, the University of Arkansas is required to pick up this banner,” Murphy-Erby said. “This effort is about learning, and it is about improving outcomes for our state. We have a special responsibility to ensure that we’re helping our campus and community to engage in this critical conversation.”

Some of the planned events include: a forum on social movements and social media, multiple film screenings, and an Africa and African American Studies graduate research symposium. The programs will use different avenues of communication, ranging from lecture to student interaction.

“We want the programs not only to be lectures but interactive programs students could participate in,” Dowe said. “We are trying to figure out ways to have individual small groups among students, where they can discuss these issues on their own. I’m looking forward to programs the students will facilitate themselves.”

“What we’re really trying to do is facilitate a conversation, create a comfortable climate and enhance the knowledge,” Murphy-Erby said. “We’ll focus on not just students, but staff members, faculty and community members.”

U of A Talks Race has partnered with the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, Fulbright College Honors Program, Sam M. Walton College of Business, School of Law, Graduate School and International Education, African and African American Studies Program, University of Arkansas Greek Life, University of Arkansas Multicultural Center and University of Arkansas Housing Office to achieve their goals. Many outside offices and registered student organizations have also offered their support.

“The initial campus core group consisted of persons who have shown a sincere commitment to these issues and advancing diversity throughout the campus.” Dowe said. “Compassion Fayetteville and the City of Fayetteville will also support our efforts by encouraging community participation and providing information to our community partners.

 “I hope that we can institutionalize these discussions. We’ve had programs but they have not been systematic. There hasn’t been sustained discussion. When talking to students, it seems that they are interested in these discussions. We’re hoping to open the door to discussing the campus climate as well. We must remain diligent and seek ways to ensure all students, staff and faculty feel welcomed and respected.”

U of A Talks Race is for every community member who is interested in the topic of race or passionate about racial equality. After the discussion has begun, the next step is to find healthy ways of dealing with racial concerns.

“We want staff and administration to participate as well,” Dowe said. “Broad participation will expand inclusion and increase the relevancy of our concerns, and for diverse students, it highlights that these issues are important to them and that the university sees them and values their presence on this campus.”

Additional events will be scheduled throughout the year. For more information, please visit the U of A Talks Race web page.
Meaghan Blanchard

About the author

Meaghan Blanchard is a junior in the Department of English. She is serving as a communications intern in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences for the 2015 summer session.