Purple Table Talk offers a forum on racial justice
A panel of student leaders shared their personal narratives and lived experiences related to race.
More than 100 members of the campus community recently participated in the College’s first-ever Purple Table Talk, a night of listening, reflection, and engagement on racial justice held over Zoom.
The virtual event featured introductions by two students, Glendy Alvarez ’21 and Nicole Buchanan ’21, and an alumna, Sara Morris ’16, as well as remarks from Fr. John Denning C.S.C. and a dialogue and Q&A with a panel of student leaders who shared their own personal narratives and lived experiences related to race.
A Letter to the College
The event was driven by the work of a group of students and alumni over the summer. In an effort to ignite change, they came together to draft a letter to Stonehill leadership that called for action and accountability within our community on racial justice.
Specifically, they made the case that institutions of higher education have not developed and implemented comprehensive plans to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) on their campuses and within their communities.
As a way to further the College’s response to this critical topic, Alvarez, Buchanan, Morris, and President Denning invited students, faculty, and staff to the Purple Table Talk, which was led Sayvion Jones ’22 and followed by a Q&A led by Director of Intercultural Affairs Latesha Fussell.
“We drafted this letter as a communication piece and to let students, alumni and people know that we are committed to cultivating racial justice on this campus,” said Alvarez, one of the co-authors in explaining why they drafted the letter to President Denning.
“Overall, really what we hoped the letter would do is just inspire other students to advocate for changes at Stonehill and really try to make it a diverse and inclusive institution,” added Buchanan, who worked with Alvarez on the letter.
“I was really looking for my alma mater to come out strongly in support of racial justice. I know having really supported the mission, as a student, as an alum—a just and compassionate world is what we strive for—and what is still happening and has been happing is not just and compassionate,” said Morris, who worked with the students to help develop the letter.
"It is important for me to hear your concerns and especially your lived experience as we work to make progress and more importantly, collaborate with all of you to address and act upon them," said President Denning. "We’ve put initiatives in place and instituted action items as part of our Institutional Diversity Action Committee (IDAC) plan, but I recognize that there is still much for us to do."
A panel of student leaders, including Alvarez and Jones, Jillian Hansen ’22, Michael Kennedy ’23, Kelly Mendoza ’23, Cassandra Pavain ’21, Madison Pimental ’21, Sade Ratliff ’23, Bridget Ryan ’21, from across the College shared their personal experiences and perspectives around race and racial justice.
The conversation covered a range of topics, including: when the students became aware of racism in America; how they benefit from racism or leverage their privilege; how students of color on campus feel they are perceived and what they believe the College asks of them and their peers; what they feel the institution, faculty, and staff have done well and the areas in which they want to see change; how the pandemic has impacted racial justice efforts; what changes they’ve seen on racial justice at Stonehill since their first year at the College; and the students’ recommendations for how to take anti-racist action on an individual and collective basis.
The group highlighted actions such as joining groups focused on racial justice and building a culture of inclusivity in all groups on campus to increase their diversity, staying proactively anti-racist with friends, family, peers, and people you meet on a daily basis, and facilitating deep and honest conversations on racial justice that keep the topic front-of-mind while working for positive change.
“When I think about being an anti-racist on campus, it’s bringing that energy to your classes. If you hear someone say something out of line in your classes, raise your hand, speak up,” said Hansen. “Also, using your platform—using your social media—but also not only using your social media… you need to back up your words with your actions.”
“I would look at my clubs and I would notice that there wasn’t a lot of racial diversity around me. I originally thought, ‘that’s because people of color don’t go to Stonehill.’ When I became an RA I realized that’s not true—there’s so much more to our campus than that, so much more to our student body than that,” said Pavain. “If I’m in a club and we don’t have a lot of racial diversity, we messed up—we made it a community that people of color don’t feel comfortable going into. That’s one of the things that I’ll look at while I’m on campus.”
“Posting a black square on your Instagram just isn’t enough. To say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and then move on isn’t enough,” added Pimental. “You can sign all the petitions too but you have to actively work in your local and Stonehill community to work against racism.”
“It’s also super important to point out that you don’t have to be attending protests to be anti-racist. You don’t have to be donating all of your money,” added Ratliff. “It manifests in the things that you do every day. The microaggressions that I’ve experienced on campus, or just the sly remarks and things like that, if you’re in that space, you have the opportunity to be anti-racist in that moment.”
“We had a judge that works in Dorchester come to my [high] school—he was an alum—and I remember him saying that ‘as a Black person we don’t have a right to get tired of racism, we don’t have a right to get tired of these injustices, we don’t have a right to get tired of fighting, because it’s been happening forever and our ancestors and people didn’t get killed and beaten for us to really just get tired of the fight,’” shared Jones. “So it’s important for me because as long as racism is present, I have to do my part in trying to educate everyone that I interact with."
The event closed with brief remarks by President Denning, who shared:
“Diversity equity and inclusion work is a priority for me and the College. I am making a long-term commitment to action for these efforts and a commitment toward this being a priority in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic but also in the days ahead.”