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Issue of race in education sparks lively dialogue at School of Education panel event

A full house at the University Student Commons Theater produced a spirited discussion among both audience and panelists alike at the School of Education-sponsored, “Race and Education, K-16 and Beyond: Past, Present and Future Possibilities” event.

Aimed to encourage discourse — both reflective and forward-thinking — on the role race plays in schools and in classrooms, the event featured a diverse group of panelists offering their perspectives and experiences on the issue.

“Race has always been a central question in American education, but the more immediate inspiration for this event was when Black VCU Speaks engaged the campus and President Rao last fall,” Dr. Ross Collin, assistant professor and chair of the School of Education’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee said.

“They really broadened the conversation, and [when we were planning the event] we couldn’t think of a more important discussion going on in education and at VCU.”

Panelists for the event included Reverend Ben Campbell, the author of “Richmond’s Unhealed History”; Michael Perkins, J.D., a doctoral student in VCU’s Wilder School as well as a member of the Black Graduate Student Association; and Angelique Scott, an undergraduate student who serves as president of the Black Art Student Empowerment VCU student organization and an organizer of Black VCU Speaks.

“[Race] is an issue that won’t be resolved by just a small group talking at people.”
– Dr. Ross Collin

Dr. Ravi Perry, an associate professor of political science in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences, moderated the event.

The conversation was far from one-sided, however. Throughout the event, audience members were encouraged to weigh in with their input and questions, and comments were even accepted via Twitter from those outside the Student Commons auditorium.

“The open format was primarily Dr. Perry’s idea – he asked, ‘What if we opened it up to the entire audience?’, and then so many great ideas just came in from our panelists and our team from there,” Collin said.

“The topic really lends itself to that sort of format: this is an issue that won’t be resolved by just a small group talking at people. Instead, we need to work together to build a more just education system and a more just society.”

Discussions during the events brought up a number of delicate subjects, such as the controversy surrounding the “Unequal Opportunity Race,” video, which made national headlines when parents complained about its recent airing in a Glen Allen high school.

Other topics of conversation included the role insufficient and unreliable public transportation plays in reinforcing inequality, the differences between cosmetic diversity and real diversity, and the proposed renaming of Henrico County’s Harry F. Byrd Middle School — a diverse facility named in honor of a strict segregationist.

“These kinds of controversies are not infrequent, unfortunately,” Collin said. “We live in an area with a long, vexed history of racial oppression, as well as of heroes: everyday folks fighting for equality and integrated schools.”

While Collin and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee were thrilled with the turnout and the participation of this event, they recognize the need to build off of the momentum the issue of race has around campus.

“These conversations have to go on, and we need to recognize that this is a topic that resists any quick fix,” Collin said.

“But VCU is uniquely positioned to have a real impact on this issue: I think our students will really be at the forefront of this work. So we need to continue to support them as well as come up with practical ideas that can be implemented in our schools to help continue these conversations.”

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee members

  • Dr. Ross Collin (chair)
  • Dr. Diane Simon
  • Dr. Thomas Beatty
  • Dr. Adai Tefera
  • Dr. Serra T De Arment
  • Ms. Lisa Jackson
  • Mr. David Naff