December 06, 2011
Jen Graves Speaks About Racism
: Photo by Jenisa Ubben.
On August 30, 2011, The Stranger’s art critic Jen Graves wrote a feature article called “Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race.” For Cornish, her article recalled an equally awkward and humbling conversation in her Art History class, when she asked her students to “raise your hand if you’re a racist.” Graves recounted that in that class period, she was focusing on writer James Baldwin and visual artist Glenn Ligon, both gay men, both African American. “It hit me that because there wasn’t a black person in the room, things were getting abstract,” she says in her article. She continues: “this art is valuable and has to be taught [—] but how do you teach someone to have a relationship to it?”
Four months after her article was published, on December 4, 2011, Graves came to Cornish to talk with students about her reasons for teaching and writing about racism, her poignant personal experiences surrounding racial prejudice, and her involvement in the Seattle branch of CARW (Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites). After her talk, she opened the floor for an hour of purposeful conversation, asking students for their reactions, questions, and thoughts. Several Integrated Studies classes and their professors were in attendance, all of whom had discussed Graves’ article and had spent time studying art and social injustice in their classes. Comments during this hour were somewhat shy to begin with, following an emotionally charged talk, but quickly opened up to honest and difficult stories and questions with support from professors and peers. The need for these conversations continues to be recognized by The Cornish Diversity Steering Committee, which affirms the importance of this dialogue and seeks to create more opportunities, such as this, to talk openly as a community.
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