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History of Act on Racism

HISTORY OF ACT ON RACISM

In the 2004-2005 academic year, GVSU's campus was home to a multitude of events referred to as "bias incidents."  These incidents functioned to increase the level of awareness of intolerance persistent on campus and in our community.  Parents of students falling into frequently victimized categories (e.g. GLBT and racial minority students), increasingly expressed concern for student safety.  While the rallies and forums were successful in that they demonstrated to victimized students a sense of solidarity from those entirely unsympathetic to the perpetrators of these incidents, they did little to address root causes or propose viable solutions. Students wanted to know why administrators had not stopped these events from occurring while administrators wondered why students had largely been the perpetrators and faculty stood on the sidelines waiting to respond to requests for speakers.  The situation highlighted the need for community agency but propelled few ideas for how to motivate or harness such agency.

It was in this climate that Act on Racism was formed.  As a teacher of an upper-division Race & Ethnicity Sociology course, I had, for a few years, offered the opportunity for students to perform an "act of resistance" against everyday racism for their last assignment.  The assignment comes with very strict guidelines including a prohibition against using violence or engaging in illegal activity, and encourages an attempt to educate.  

With the assistance of two former students, over the course of the summer we selected roughly ten events that were recounted by students who were either targets or observers of the incidents.  We then recruited a diverse group of undergraduates, most of who had been enrolled in Race and Ethnicity during prior semesters, and began to negotiate ways to re-enact these incidents.  The goal of our efforts was to increase the dialogue on campus regarding the myriad ways that race is experienced.   

-Jennifer Stewart, Ph.D.
 Department of Sociology