Racial Justice workshops address race personally and professionally
By Nora Hertel | Wed, 07/18/2012 - 7:15pm
But when Wrenn Bauch attended the Racial Justice workshop series at the YWCA Madison 10 years ago, she realized that it’s not enough to just be kind to people -- she needed to actively promote justice. She now helps facilitate the workshops.
“As I went through this process I really came to terms with my own privilege,” said Wrenn Bauch of the three part series on “Communicating Across Cultures, Deconstructing Racism, and Exploring Privilege.”
The workshops are a series of three eight-hour meetings designed to address questions of race, privilege and intercultural understanding. They attract a diverse group of people from throughout the county with professional and personal reasons to explore the issues.
In the most recent session that ended on June 27, participants ranged in age from 20s to late 60s. The racial composition of attendees matches that of the county, which is predominantly white. But people of color also enroll as participants and facilitators. Attendees often work in fields like education like criminal justice. Wrenn Bauch has worked with employees from the public defender’s office and from Edgewood College.
Having a diverse group with trained facilitators allows participants to discuss race and privilege in a “safe place,” explained YWCA Madison CEO Rachel Krinsky. "The workshops create a space where people of different backgrounds can learn to talk about their own experiences and listen to others’ without fear they will offend."
The first workshop on Communicating Across Cultures deals with interpersonal relationships. It touches on the basic question, “how do you even talk about race between two people,” Krinsky said.
The second, on Deconstructing Racism goes beyond personal rapport and explores institutional racism. Participants examine “how racism and racial injustice is embedded in structures and in society, even if nobody intends for it to be that way,” Krinsky said.
She adds that the final workshop on Exploring Privilege is often hard for people to wrap their heads around, “because people think when we talk about privilege we’re saying ‘you haven’t earned what you have,’ or ‘your grandparents didn’t work hard.'”
“That’s not what we mean when we’re talking about privilege,” Krinsky said. “What we’re talking about is given everything covered in the second workshop about structural imbalances … and differentials in opportunities and access, that one person’s hard work and efforts and opportunities may not result in the same thing as someone else’s hard work.”
To explore these issues two facilitators for each class direct the 15-25 participants through exercises and conversations. They pass around a talking piece in large group discussions to encourage listening. Only the person with the piece can speak, and all others direct their attention to that speaker. Some one-on-one discussion also takes place between participants. The individuals also complete worksheets and journals to explore and understand their own cultural perspective.
The curriculum used to be based on films, but a recent revamp incorporates more activities and discussion, though film excerpts are still a part of the program. Participants also have the opportunity to complete reading assignments at home to supplement each meeting.
The workshops take place each season and occasionally occur over the course of a few weeks. The YWCA also tailors the program to specific institutions, when needed. The next workshops will be held on August 20, 21, and 22.
Many participants take the lessons they learned back to their professional environments. They also continue the conversation outside class. Some participants who completed the last session in June, for example, continue to meet for dinner to discuss the issues.
“I think people were really inspired,” said Wrenn Bauch. “I think throughout our community there are lots of efforts going on in big ways and in little ways [to address racism], there’s a lot of work to be done, but there are people interested in the work and learning more.”
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