Officials address race topics
Senior Cristina Hernandez, intercultural director for the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific, shares her personal experiences with inappropriate racial comments and asks students to speak up.
Photo credit: RACHEL EVERS/The Falcon.
Reconciliation possible through discussion
By RACHEL BOISEN, Features Writer
Published: February 29, 2012
Will Schuester, the Spanish teacher in Fox’s Glee, was dressed in an embroidered bull-fighting outfit and sang “La Cucaracha” with the help of his brass band.
Forty minutes later, dressed as a matador, he swirled a red cape around his head, begging for “a little less conversation and a little more action, please.”
The song ended, but as the rest of the students applauded, character Santana Lopez declared her disappointment.
“What are you talking about? They all loved my performance,” Schuester said.
“Because they don’t know any better. It’s your fault,” Lopez said. “Why don’t you just dress up like the Taco Bell chihuahua and bark the theme song to Dora the Explorer? You don’t know enough to be embarrassed about these stereotypes you’re perpetuating.”
“That’s not fair,” Schuester said.
“Isn’t it?” Lopez said.
The above scene occurred in a recent episode of Glee called “The Spanish Teacher.” While Seattle Pacific rarely finds students performing Adele mash-ups on a well-lit stage, it is similar to William McKinley High School, as both campuses struggle with racially charged situations.
Senior Cristina Hernandez, the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific intercultural director, has been in the middle of one such encounter. Her sophomore year, students in her class gave a presentation on slavery.
“It was portrayed in a very comical way,” Hernandez said. “I remember feeling like I was the only one offended, and I had to decide at that moment whether or not I wanted to say something.”
In the end, Hernandez chose to send an email to her professor, sharing that she thought the presentation was inappropriate. Keeping her identity a secret, the professor used the situation as a teaching moment in the next class session.
“If I hadn’t spoken out about it in an email or in person or anything, that would have perpetuated, and the students in that class never would have realized why that was offensive and why laughing about something like that is not OK,” Hernandez said. “I think it’s important to call those things out when you see them.”
But, she warned, this should not be done haphazardly.
“Be careful about how you go about calling them out because you don’t want to insult others,” Hernandez says. “Sometimes, it’s best to maybe talk to the professor; pull them aside and talk to them after class.”
Director of Multi-Ethnic Programs Susan Lane also had several recommendations for working through such situations.
“In any circle, relationships can help work out difficulties. You have to practice common sense things, like use ‘I’ statements, speak from your own experience and listen to the person, and don’t interrupt,” Lane said. “Go back when you feel like there’s been a misunderstanding to seek resolution and apologize and ask for forgiveness.”
She also recommended defining the terms of the discussion.
Words such as “race,” “ethnicity,” “racism,” “discrimination” and “culture,” among others, can have different meanings.
“People think they know — think they understand — and they might have different definitions,” Lane said.
She specifically recommended the reconciliation definitions compiled by Salter McNeil and Associates, an organization which aims to “empower and equip interculturally competent leaders to transform colleges, churches, seminaries and Christian organizations into reconciling communities,” according to its website.
Hernandez advises people to not assume one person is a spokesperson for an entire group.
“Just because your one friend of color doesn’t find racist statements offensive doesn’t mean that every person of color won’t find that statement offensive,” Hernandez said.
If a comment is considered racist, Hernandez said to keep calm.
“You are not automatically an evil person,” she said.
Hernandez described it as analogous to brushing your teeth.
“My encouragement would be to not react defensively, but to see it as, ‘Hey, you’ve got something in your teeth’ and not be offended,” she said. “Don’t take it extremely personally because everybody needs to take care of their hygiene.”
In the future, white suburban housemothers of the world ought to learn to talk about race, Hernandez said.
“I think it’s important to realize that white is a race,” Hernandez said. “No one is exempt from dealing with those kinds of things, whether they know it or not.”
Lane, who started at SPU in 1983, remembers when race was rarely discussed on campus.
“Non-white students in the past were very much in the minority, when it was less than 10 percent and students [of color] were the only students of color … in their classes,” Lane said. “That was true for so long that they were too intimidated to bring things up. They felt like their only path of surviving and succeeding at SPU was assimilation, accommodation and keeping their mouths shut.”
Now, Lane believes enough ethnic minority students have arrived on campus to make them feel like they belong.
“There seems to be a greater sense — for students that are from diverse backgrounds — that ‘this is my school,’” Lane said. “They can do their social life here and not have to flee campus, they are speaking up more in classes, and the number of intercultural clubs — there are new ones every year since I’ve been in Multi-Ethnic Programs.”
As SPU goes through the growing pains of becoming a culturally competent campus, 2011 graduate and former Intercultural Director DeHeavalyn Pullium said that it would be difficult.
“It’s going to be uncomfortable, and it’s not going to be easy, and at the end of the day, you’re not going to have all these answers and have everything tied up with a pretty bow,” Pullium said. “You’ll be uncomfortable, it’ll make you sad and angry, but at the same time, a lot of good relationships will come from it.
“Don’t take it personally. The issues that are happening are not individual things. It’s a system.”
Even so, many Caucasian students, in Pullium’s experience, undergo feelings of “white guilt,” when white students feel as though they are part of the problem.
“Guilt is going to happen, but what happens next is what’s most important,” Pullium said. “You can take that guilt and let it keep you from learning about other cultures or people that aren’t like you and let it keep you from certain relationships or situations, or use that to make you question more and learn more.”
Through all of this, Pullium hopes for reconciliation.
She hopes to see people “being comfortable with your difference and my difference and still being able to have a relationship — a genuine relation — and celebrate that.”