Diversity Week begins with an open dialogue about the well-being of others

By Victoria Gill-Gomez

News Editor

From Nov. 9–13, the Office of Intercultural Affairs reintroduced Diversity Week to educate the campus community and highlight diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Washington College community. 

Opening the week of social media posts and emails, three lectures were held on Monday, Nov. 9, entitled “Dialogue Day.”

All three lectures began with the acknowledgment that WC and Chestertown sit on the stolen land of the Nanticoke, Piscataway, and Powhatan tribes.

“WC is here and committed to making a more equitable, inclusive, and engaged community that we all can learn and bring our own diverse perspectives,” Director of Intercultural Affairs Carese Bates said at the beginning of her first talk, “Racial Battle Fatigue.”

The first lecture on Monday, entitled “What is Diversity & Inclusion?,” was led by Clifton M. Miller Librarian and Research Instructor for Science and Mathematics Alexandria Baker.

Baker began her lecture by separately defining diversity — “the variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance” — and inclusion — “an inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people.”

“We’re not only learning more about diversity, we’re unlearning some of those falsehoods we acquired throughout our lifetimes,” Baker said.

Baker quoted former professional American tennis player Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

The second talk of the day focused on the term “racial battle fatigue,” which is a lasting impact of race-related stress on an individual, according to Bates, who led the discussion. She said the term was coined soon after the term “microaggressions” as this constant negative stimulus is a direct cause.

Bates said, “the responses [to racial battle fatigue] can become emotional; they can become mentally distressing, and they typically emerge from demeaning, insensitive environments and individuals,” by direct or indirect racism.

“Racial battle fatigue” was coined by William A. Smith, a professor in the division of ethnic studies and Department of Education, Culture, and Society at the University ofUtah, as a psychological response to the stress of being a member of a constantly oppressed group.

Microaggressions cause an impact on mental health, unsafe environments, and drastically varying emotional reactions. While microaggressions are often seen in words of diminishment, Bates said it can also be found in action and silence.

“Our nonverbal language is just as strong as our words,” she said.

According to Bates, students of color experiencing these microaggressions, whether out of malice or not, can create a rift between their peers, professors, and academic success.

Oftentimes, racial battle fatigue can happen in spaces where systemic racism is rooted heavily. Sometimes it is difficult to see this when the systemic racism is so overt, Bates said. 

However, Bates said, “a mask cannot be removed” from members of marginalized communities when around individuals, or within a society, that may discriminate against them.

“Well, I have a mask that I can’t take off,” Bates said. “I am in a constant state where I’m always having to defend my culture and community, or I know that I represent something larger than myself, so I have to constantly remember that.”

Bates then showed the audience an animated video breaking down the term, causes, and effects of racial battle fatigue. 

Psychological symptoms of RBF incorporate those of anxiety and depression while the physiological symptoms include high blood pressure, weaker immune systems, and indigestion.

“This makes me reflect back when [the administration] received the student mandates from last year on areas of diversity where we could improve on. And I really, in thinking back, wonder if we could’ve had this conversation to talk about what symptoms are [students] having from of the racial traumas that [they] had experienced,” Bates said.

There were a few members of the College faculty, staff, and administration who attended these talks, all voicing their experience and encouragement towards DEI education.

“This was a topic that I was not aware of until I saw the listing of options for the discussion today. And as I am growing and developing, this is a new concept for me. So, thank you for opening up my eyes and sharing it with me,” Raven Bishop, instructional technologist for the College, said.

“I love the point [Bates] said where we need to get to a point where the inclusiveness is automatic,” Vice President of Student Affairs Sarah Feyerherm said. “As opposed to the racism or the microaggressions. And that’s exactly — that’s it…That’s where we need to get, and that takes practice and that takes awareness, and it takes just over and over again.”

Despite the virtual format, Intercultural Affairs Ambassador and sophomore Queen Cornish said she was pleased by the effort all attendees made to be involved with the discussion and show support to the Intercultural Affairs Office throughout the week.

“We wouldn’t have done it without collaboration. There was a lot of email correspondence, but we got it done,” Cornish said.

Cornish also attended the third event of Monday’s “Dialogue Day” discussions, “Unconscious Biases.” At this event, students learned, and shared experiences related to biases. 

Diversity Week’s inspiration and goals were initially discussed at the top of the semester and later continued at the beginning of October. Bates developed starting points for each event, with a desire to revive previous years’ Diversity Week initiative.

Cornish said her peer, freshman Shannel Fraser, was “instrumental in developing media such as flyers, email templates, and managing [the social media accounts].”

“Collectively, we brainstormed ideas on who to collaborate with,” Cornish said, regarding the  Student Government Association, the Anthropology Department, the Miller Library, Library and Academic Technology, the Department of World Languages and Cultures, and the Global Education Office, all of whom contributed to Diversity Week. 

Cornish hopes that this past week provided an accurate gauge about the needs of the community, especially through post-event surveys. She said the collected data allows the Office of Intercultural Affairs to understand the desires of the community and what is relevant to the current social and racial climate. 

According to Cornish, students have this digital space to express themselves and feel validated, whereas faculty and staff members have the opportunity to listen and be educated.

“This is really an opportunity to move towards an inclusive and accessible campus,” she said.

“I love that at WC we foster a space for conversations. We really, I believe, have a culture where we want to hear from each other and learn from other’s experiences. And I love that we have students, faculty, and staff that promote that cultural reflection and that dialogue with each other. Because if we don’t hear about these stories then we won’t think they exist or won’t know they exist. We won’t understand the lived experiences that some of us have,” Bates said.

Featured Photo caption: Within the “Unconscious Bias” talk, Director of Intercultural Affairs Carese Bates stated that there are around 150 identified unconscious biases. While everyone suffers from prejudice it is all in the brain and can be unlearned through “the willingness to know that we want to do better,” according to Bates. Photo by Marah Vain Callahan.

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