Teach-In on race promotes activism within Emerson

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By Hanna Marchesseault

Rachel Kuo, an Asian-American scholar and educator, kicked off the third annual Teach-In on Race on Oct. 12 by emphasizing how many movements focusing on race and inequality come from college campuses.

“The labor of diversity work mainly comes down to student organizations,” Kuo said.

The all-day event dedicated to educating students, faculty, and staff on creating a more inclusive and diverse community included panels, workshops and information sessions around the campus.

Kuo was the keynote speaker this year. As a social justice educator at New York University and the University of Wisconsin, Kuo regularly writes for Everyday Feminism and The Huffington Post.

She explained how integral on-campus student organizations are to addressing inequality and injustice within institutions. These organizations are oftentimes the ones holding a school accountable for issues that arise, making sure they are dealt with and aren’t just viewed as a small problem in an otherwise smoothly functioning system.

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“So much energy goes into showing people that racism exists … I know it does, but what are we going to do about it?” Kuo asked.

After Kuo’s preliminary remarks, she was joined on stage by a student panel with various leaders from organizations on campus. Leaders of Flawless Brown, Emerson’s Advancement Group for Love and Expression, Asian Students for Intercultural Awareness, and the South Asian Student Association were among the panel.

The panel spoke about their individual organizations and the way in which they hope to create safe havens for people looking for a place to feel included.

Director of Flawless Brown Stage Issel Solano-Sanchez discussed her time as a theater student and the lack of professors of color she’s encountered. President of ASIA Lia Kim spoke about her experience arriving at the school and the lack of diversity she noticed right from the start.

“I came into Emerson not thinking too much about diversity and just wanting to focus on my major, but when I arrived at my first class and saw that I was the only student of color, I just sat at the front of the class so I wouldn’t have to look out at a sea of people I felt I couldn’t identify with,” Kim said.

The student panelists urged other students to become involved in organizations.

“Even if you don’t identify within our group, support is always needed and we welcome anyone to our meetings,” President of the South Asian Student Association Sara Pirzada said.

After the keynote address, there were six different breakout panels throughout the day with topics focusing on building community and intersectionality. Many individuals, including Emerson alumni, students, community leaders, and faculty, led these panels at various locations around campus.

Throughout the day, the Iwasaki Library held a Wiki Edit-A-Thon where individuals could stop by and add information about screenwriters of color to Wikipedia pages. Assistant Professor Rae Shaw of the Visual and Media Arts department also gave a talk on her current research project about African-American screenwriters.

After the first session of panels, the student advocacy group Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform held a workshop to educate individuals on fighting back against bias and what to do if you’re experiencing it. Co-Chair Alexis Fernander started off the workshop by informing the attendees of resources available to them if they were ever subject to discrimination within the Emerson community.

The members of POWER urged the attendees to seek support if they experience discrimination or bias, and to become involved with POWER or attend protests and events they hold on campus.

“We want to open up discussion about how people can be more involved on campus, and we want you to share the information we’re giving you to fight bias along with us,” Fernander said.