For over six years, the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific University have provided a platform for students, staff and faculty members to explore and learn more about racial issues through their In Context program.
“[In Context] makes people question preconceived notions about race,” Catalyst Education Coordinator Tsion McNichols said.
The six-week program was started by alumna DeHeavalyn Pullium in the 2010-2011 school year, and was recognized in 2011 with the ASSP Outstanding Program for Diversity. In Context occurs each quarter of the academic year, sponsored by The John Perkins Center.
The autumn quarter session started on Oct. 19 and features small groups discussing the deconstruction of race and white privilege.
McNichols, who has participated in In Context for the last two years and was a student facilitator last year, her junior year, believes that the environment of In Context is designed to be a “place to be vulnerable … [and] build community, partnership, and accountability.”
“It’s a learning process,” McNichols said. “They get a different perspective.”
Students, faculty and staff meet weekly for In Context sessions and break into small groups that are based on the topic they have decided to focus on for the quarter.
In Context members are then led in group discussions by facilitators. Facilitators are not teachers, but they do challenge and encourage members during discussion.
After participating in In Context for the first time last spring, sophomore Nia Liggins chose to facilitate it this year.
“I was craving a space to learn from others experiences, and by being a facilitator I can help guide others on their journey through In Context,” Liggins said. “It’s really humbling to watch people expose their vulnerability and grow with one another, no matter what their background may be.”
Facilitator Kellianne Elliott felt especially called to lead in In Context partly because of her background.
Elliott co-facilitated with senior Erin Kimminau, who died in a car accident on Sunday, Nov. 6, on her way back to SPU after participating in the protests with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.
After the death of Kimminau, In Context cancelled their meeting on Nov. 9 to provide an opportunity for the In Context community to grieve the loss.
“As a person with incredulous amounts of privilege, I am responsible for working towards the end of racism in this country,” Elliott said in an email. “It is my demographic that benefits the most from racial inequality in America, and facilitating In Context is just one of many tangible ways that I can make a positive impact in this arena.”
Elliott describes her role as a facilitator to be “bittersweet,” as her job can be both rewarding and challenging.
“[It’s] fulfilling in the sense that I am able to connect with other students that are trying to put together the pieces in an informed way,” Elliott said. “It is innately painful to direct conversation and present data on white privilege and racism in America, because this depraved reality that we have constructed has caused strife for so many humans.”
Elliott hopes that the work that is done by In Context will cause improvement and change for all.
“People of color deserve so much better, and I am compelled to fight alongside them to bring about a more equitable reality in this beautiful and broken country,” Elliott added.
Many of the groups prepare for their weekly meetings by reading articles or watching videos. These pieces are jumping off points for conversation for the rest of the session.
Students like Chayce Hanson have found their time at In Context to be positive.
Hanson, a first time attender at In Context, wanted to join in order to “see what other people had to say” about topics that were often not talked about.
McNichols hopes that students who attend In Context will be able to be better equipped with resources and language for describing race, will be more comfortable talking about the topic, will see relevance behind race and will “realize the other.”
Students will be able to participate in In Context during the winter and spring quarters. New topics such as Race and the Bible, as well as color blindness are proposed topics that In Context may study later on in the year.