Wentworth Roundtable: A Discussion on the Topic of Race

June 29, 2020

several portraits of people

Clockwise from top left: Nakisa Alborz, Alex Cabal, Rebecca Drossman, David Simpson and Aaron Carpenter

We recently hosted a virtual call with Wentworth faculty (Nakisa Alborz, David Simpson and Aaron Carpenter) and staff (Alex Cabal and Becky Drossman) to discuss the issue of race in America and how it affects academia. Mostly, we listened and tried to absorb as much as we could.

A substantive discussion took place around protests and social activism in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans. The group discussed how to be anti-racist, how to support traditionally marginalized groups of people, and what it means to have this discussion in the middle of a global pandemic.

This first installment is part of a series containing quotes taken directly from our virtual call. The university under President Mark A. Thompson has made Inclusive Excellence a leading priority, hosting community forums and dialogues on the subject, conducting a campus climate survey, and most recently naming Nicole Price the inaugural vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Wentworth is also a member of the Leading for Change Higher Education Diversity Consortium with a campus-based team committed to improving the retention and graduation rates of Black and Hispanic students.

We hope that this series will help keep the conversation on racial inequality going as our community continues to move toward meaningful change. We encourage you to view this list of resources for further reading.

--Greg Abazorius and John Franklin

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Greg Abazorius, Director, Content: We’ve obviously seen protests related to racial injustice, wrongful deaths and certain police practices in the past, but something, at least in my opinion, feels different right now, and I want to know the opinion of everybody else. Do you feel like we’re finally at an inflection point? Or will this current movement lead to more business as usual and a lack of fundamental change taking place?

David Simpson, Assistant Professor, Department of Interdisciplinary Engineering: I think I’m a little wary. History shows us that some of the biggest riots that occur in our nation are race related. The riots of 1919, 1963, 1964, 1992—there always seems to be a correlation with race and people of minority speaking up against some of the injustices that they encounter. And the interesting thing is that after each one of these riots, there's been this big plan that has come out, right? “This is what we need to do. We need to take a look at law enforcement. We need to take a look at our justice system. We need to take a look at this and take a look at that.” And I find it ironic that the recommendations in 1919 were very similar to the ones in 1963, the ones in 1992. And I suspect they will be very similar now.

But one of the really exciting things that I'm seeing is this collective voice shine through. I am seeing people—white people, for instance—who are taking an active role in trying to understand things like privilege. They're buying books and taking it upon themselves to Google things, to watch YouTube videos, to watch movies or whatever else they can get their hands on in order to really understand this idea of systemic racism. So I'm wary, but at the same time I'm hopeful, I guess, is the best way of putting it.


Alex Cabal, Director, Center for Diversity and Social Justice Programs: I wonder if because we're in this COVID-19 world and we're at home, we're paying attention more, we're more focused on what's going on outside. This is a question that all my friends and I always ask. Why does it feel a little different than four years ago, or even last year?


Becky Drossman, Assistant Director of College Access, Center for Community and Learning Partnerships: I've wondered that too, Alex. I read something recently about how COVID-19 is the great magnifier and has really put a spotlight on the many disparities that marginalized communities have and just how significant the impact of COVID-19 has been on these communities. A lot of these communities are struggling even more because of COVID-19 and the lack of resources that our country is providing. Is there more of a highlight because of that? In addition to people being stuck at home, I will say that the power of social media is intense. It's powerful. And it's been a really, really significant resource.


John Franklin, Social Media Specialist: This is the most time that Americans have spent in front of a phone or computer screen on average. More than we've ever seen in our lifetime, in anyone's lifetime.


Nakisa Alborz, Department Chair, Department of Interdisciplinary Engineering: I think given that we are all sheltering in place and our lives have kind of been turned upside down by the pandemic, it has given us time to reflect and really dive deep into all of the issues, because the pandemic has highlighted and magnified a lot of inequities at every level. It has created a perfect storm scenario and you're right, the power of social media is at its highest at this time. And seeing injustices being posted is just a new platform. There are many things we have not seen, but now we're seeing all these videos surface across the nation, around the globe. And given that we are slowing down in terms of our lifestyle right now, we are really paying attention collectively.


David Simpson: And this goes back to the Civil Rights movement, how the big push in the 1960s wasn't the fact that there were all these people out there protesting. It was the fact that someone got a camera and they started capturing the way these people were being treated. And as soon as the mass households actually got that footage, that's when they begin to activate. Now that we have this [smartphone] tool, we can get information out to the world in a matter of minutes. Now we're able to see everything and act on it.


Alex Cabal: I think our phones have become a superhero tool where everyone can be part of a change. I think that it has allowed more folks to feel like part of a movement rather than just reading about it. A lot of folks I know, including a lot of my white friends, have said they’re now more conscious of the fact that they can pick up their phone, because they know what that could do and that it could be the difference between justice or just another body in the streets. It’s incredible how technology has helped bring justice and peace in some instances.


In the next installment, the group examines the idea of accountability and the increase in student activism they’ve noticed.

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