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MLK Week to launch talks on diversity

Emerson, we need to talk.

As part of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Week, Why We Won’t Wait, January 18–22, people across the Emerson College campus will take part in Conversations on Race and Difference throughout the week.

“Emerson has made a big commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence over the years, and part of my role and [Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion] Sylvia Spears’ [role] is to always find new ways to engage faculty, staff, and students,” Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Director Robert Amelio said. “To not only have discussions around race and difference, but acting on it, too.”

The inspiration for the event arose, in part, from an April 28 student action, in which hundreds of Emerson students took over an end-of-the-year faculty assembly to protest treatment of students of color on campus and lack of faculty diversity, among other things. They demanded “cultural sensitivity training” for faculty and “culturally enlightening classes” for students, according to an article in the Berkeley Beacon.

As of the beginning of this week, close to 30 faculty, departments, and student groups have signed up to participate in the Conversations, and Amelio said he expects more students to join with the start of classes.

Group facilitators will attend one of six orientation sessions this week, where they will get ideas for launching the talks. Next week, each group will hold a conversation, and facilitators are invited to a January 22 Summit on Race and Difference, where they will talk about their discussions, what they learned, and ways to keep the conversations going throughout the year, Amelio said.

“[We’re talking] about who we’re bringing into Emerson, and once we have them here, how are we helping every person here feel successful and do their best?” he said.

Ruthanne Madsen, vice president for enrollment management, said her team is taking part in Conversations on Race and Difference as an extension of what the department has been trying to do to increase diversity on campus.

Last spring, the Enrollment Management Diversity Committee was launched, and since that time, the department has worked on something related to diversity at least once a month, Madsen said. That committee will lead the Conversation next week, she said.

Madsen said she was not sure yet what the specifics of the talk will be, but there will be a tie-in with what the office does on a daily basis.

“It always comes back to what we’re doing to diversify our student population, what are we doing to retain…diverse populations,” she said. And faculty diversity is crucial to that discussion, she said, because it’s difficult to recruit students if they don’t see a broad enough representation among faculty.

Taylor Jett ’16, one of the organizers of the April 28 student protest and co-president of Emerson’s Black Organization with Natural Interests (EBONI), said encouraging conversations around race and differences is a good start, but the next step needs to be to make these types of discussions an integral part of the classrooms and regular faculty meetings.

She said because the Conversations aren’t mandatory, only people who already are open to embracing diversity will take part.

“I think conversations are great, but we can only talk for so long,” said Jett, who said EBONI would likely participate in next week’s Conversations, as long as schedules allow.

Amelio said the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is working on putting together a series of talks going forward that will be run out of that office.

“Our hope is this week coming up is sort of a kickoff of a more sustained set of conversations we’re going to have that will help educate people; but also, we do believe conversations are part of the action,” he said.

The Summit on Race and Difference will be held Friday, January 22, 3-4:30 p.m., in the Bordy Theater & Auditorium. All are welcome; light refreshments will be served. RSVP to

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