by Lauryn Robinson

On March 21st I attended the annual “Day for Learning and Speaking out” at Duquesne University. While I have attended annual film screenings and brief discussions in correspondence with the day’s events, this year I had the privilege of speaking and leading a discussion. The “Exploring Race and Pedagogy” portion of the day was centered around providing faculty with insight on how students really feel about race in the classroom. The conversation began with a panel that allowed students to vocalize exactly what it’s like to talk, or not talk, about race at Duquesne. The topics of discussion included,

  • admitting the assumptions professors mistakenly place on minority students in the classroom
  • the lack of diversity within teaching methods in terms of including minority history
  • the lack of teaching diversity in terms of addressing minority issues.

The second part of the “Exploring Race and Pedagogy” session was structured into very intimate round table discussions, led by students. Student leaders were given a guideline sheet outlining questions to ask the group. The student leader outline included,

  • What is a safe space?
  • What is a brave space?
  • Scenarios that represented examples where race and racism can be seen in the classroom

Despite the structure of this portion, there was plenty of room for open discussion.  Personally, I know that faculty members were deeply invested in making their classes more diverse and making students feel welcomed and included. Faculty members discussed,

  • Ways/times to intervene when a student may be racially targeted
  • New texts to bring into the classroom in hopes of promoting academic inclusion

Although I’m sure the conversation overall and the process of admitting our mistakes, was not easy, I know that in the end, the uncomfortable conversation was undoubtedly converted into progress that will be seen on campus.

While I feel comfortable talking about social issues, I was unaware of how many faculty members wanted to hear about my experience at Duquesne University. I was able to educate professors on diverse teaching methods that I have found useful. Furthermore, I was able to share my personal experiences in the classroom that have made me feel both welcomed and discouraged. Working with the Duquesne staff was an experience in itself and I learned so much.  I felt honored to have the opportunity to spread the opinions, concerns and desires of my fellow peers of color. Leading discussion and speaking on behalf of minority students on campus was a privilege. With such a  strong absence of communication between faculty and students on campus, I was happy to speak up in hopes of change.

Throughout the event, my only fear was that I would not represent the group, and our ideas, adequately. In many ways, I worried I would become Jane from the novel Thirty Girls by Susan Minot. Jane is a white journalist whose job was to tell the world about the story of the young women whom were former child soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army. In many ways, Jane failed at adequately expressing their story, because she allowed personal experiences and opinions to impacted her lens. In this case, I was the journalist in charge of telling the untold- a story that is not thought of when you hear that Duquesne University is 85% white, leaving only 15% to minorities. With such a small minority voice on a campus of about 10,000 students, I felt like I had a lot to cover. Although I am a minority student, like those I was speaking on behalf of, I did not want my own ideas and biases to negatively reflect the whole.

In the end, I commend myself for doing a better job than Jane. But I now sympathize with some of her difficulties of relaying such a sensitive and important story. It is not easy to speak on behalf of a group with intentions of it being portrayed exactly how “they” would like it to be portrayed. I am an affiliate of the group I was speaking on behalf of, yet I had trouble spreading our story. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to tell a story from the outside.