Campus Conversations on Race open dialogue

by Beacon Staff • March 15, 2006

Tarraza, who is Hispanic, was once denied the opportunity to look at an apartment based on the way he looked, he said at Monday's CCOR session.,For junior TV/video major Luis Tarraza, Campus Conversations on Race (CCOR) is a valuable forum to discuss his personal encounters with racism.

Tarraza, who is Hispanic, was once denied the opportunity to look at an apartment based on the way he looked, he said at Monday's CCOR session. Tarraza said he called ahead and was told the apartment was available but was turned away upon arrival. Talking about events like this one, he said, can help further racial understanding.

"People are shocked by some stories," Tarraza said. "They don't want to put anyone in the positions that I've been put in."

CCOR, a series of guided discussions on the issues of race and ethnicity, returned to the Emerson campus Monday. A total of 17 participants met with student co-facilitators during three sessions, and five such groups of participants and facilitators will meet weekly for two hours over five weeks, according to Dr. William Smith, the executive director of the Center for Diversity, which sponsors the conversations.

Smith, who is black, said student co-facilitators have been preparing to moderate the discussions since the fall.

The two-hour sessions are driven by discussion and are based on a series of cases that the co-facilitators present, according to the Handbook for Campus Conversations on Race.

Smith said 39 students are currently signed up to participate in CCOR in addition to the 10 co-facilitators, but that number could increase by the end of the week.

"The overall goal is to move a step closer to establishing diversity as a part of the campus culture, [and] to establish understanding and insight and to embrace racial and ethnic diversity," Smith said.

Co-Facilitator Zahra Syed, a freshman TV/video and broadcast journalism double major who is Pakistani, agreed that CCOR is a good resource to help students understand racial issues.

"I think there is a real need for this on campus," Syed said. "Race is something that we usually don't talk about, or we don't know how to."

Senior film major Luis Dechtiar, who is Brazilian-American, said he thinks the conversations are vital because racism is an underlying problem in society.

"It's really frustrating because I have really good friends [who] . from my perspective, [display] racist characteristics," Dechtiar said, adding that many times people make racially insensitive jokes.

Dechtiar, who attended Monday's session, said that CCOR has helped him because he can more easily discuss issues such as race.

"I'm already more used to bringing these things up in everyday life without feeling embarrassed," he said.

Smith said that CCOR will take place again next year and he hopes to see CCOR become a tradition and a regular part of Emerson's extracurricular program.

Smith said he was excited that the program has seen support from many professors, who have offered extra credit to those students who participate in the program.

"I think [giving the extra credit] is wonderful because it tells students that there is a value in learning this," Smith said.

In today's society, Smith said, learning about racial issues is especially valuable.

"It's so important that we try to understand the perspectives of others [and] understand cultural interests and boundaries, more so than ever before," he said.