Considering the social advancements of the past few decades, many Americans would like to believe that racial discrimination and prejudice are things of the past—as antiquated as transistor radios and rotary phones.
Sam Richards and Danna Jayne Seballos think otherwise. On March 23rd, they led a Research Unplugged conversation titled Why Race Still Matters: Creating Conversations in 21st Century Classrooms.
Richards, a senior lecturer in Sociology and co-director (along with his wife and colleague Laurie Mulvey) of the World in Conversation Project, explained that if race didn't still matter, people would have no reservations about openly discussing racial stereotypes and differences.
Open discussion is what it's all about in Richards' classrooms—and his innovative method of instruction has proven very popular. His "Sociology 119" Race and Ethnic Relations course is thought to be the largest of its kind in the country, with 725 students per class. Students enrolled in Soc. 119 become involved with World in Conversation by attending facilitator-led discussions about race, and for many the experience is nothing short of eye-opening (85 percent of students rate the experience as valuable and worthwhile). Below is a video introduction to the class.
The project's mission, explained Richards and Seballos, is to create an ideologically neutral environment for dialogue where individuals can voice their unscripted thoughts and concerns about issues ranging from race to gender to globalization to Middle East relations. This coming year about 7,000 students will participate in one of over 1,000 WCP conversations on the Penn State - University Park campus.
Seballos, herself a former facilitator, is now charged with the task of training students to facilitate these small group dialogues (7-8 students per discussion). She explained it is the role of the facilitator to create an environment which is open and welcoming of all opinions—no small feat regarding a topic as polarizing as race.