Participants in diversity discussion confront racism, sexism

Lizzy Heurich

“Unfinished Conversations: A Diversity Discussion” brought together 100 people to confront issues of racism and sexism on campus on Nov. 10.

The event was led by Lee Mun Wah, a Chinese-American community therapist, Master Diversity and Communications trainer, a documentary filmmaker and an author. He has had a one-hour special on “Oprah.”

The participants, including University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., watched quietly as Mun Wah took the floor, dressed all in black. He sighed, slowly scanning everyone in the audience.

Lee then posed this question: “Will it be safe to tell the truth tonight?”

Lee’s calm and cool demeanor seemed to put most people in the audience at ease.

He had everyone in attendance break off into pairs with the requirement that each person pair with someone he or she did not know.

Within these pairings, people were encouraged by Lee to discuss their heritage and what makes it challenging to discuss diversity and racism, among other things.

After the pairs conversed, Lee allowed participants to come up to the microphone and ask a question to anyone, whether it was directed to an individual or group of people.

First to approach the microphone was Frank Pryor, who has been a political science professor at Villanova for 15 years.

“What are your challenges and difficulties?” Pryor asked Donohue. He wanted to know what obstacles the president faces when dealing with diversity and racism on campus.

“It’s a difficult question to answer,” Donohue said. “My frustration is getting different people to come to the table. I look at it as chipping away at [diversity and racism problems on campus], but I constantly get ‘It’s not enough, it’s not enough, it’s not enough.'”

At this point, Lee stepped in to point out that Pryor had yet to nod his head in agreement.

“What do you need Father Peter to do?” Lee asked Pryor.

“There are many talented people around here,” Pryor said. “You need to seek them out.”

“You want me to come to you?” Donohue said. “I hear what you’re saying, but I do that. The door opens both ways. It is not the administration. I am an individual, and I am willing to talk to you.”

While this was perhaps one of the more heated moments of the night, the two men ended the exchange with a handshake and a hug.

Other people came to the microphone to address personal issues they had faced with diversity or racism. Some people asked questions of the audience, while others stated their opinions on diversity and racism.

Lee, who is no stranger to diversity and racism, shared with the audience that his mother was murdered by an African-American male for being different.

He told the audience how at first it was hard to not generalize African-Americans.

“I am a recovering racist and sexist,” Lee stated to the attendees, “Everyone in this room is a recovering racist.”

While many people in the audience were taken aback by Lee’s blunt statement, many others said they began to realize that perhaps that statement was true.

The night ended with people holding hands as Lee made a statement for the future.

“We want to have hope that it will be different in our time,” he said.

The ACS-approved event was eye-opening and refreshing to many people, including Donohue.

“It was an interesting conversation, but it’s just the beginning,” Donohue said. “I loved [Lee’s] approach to honesty; it facilitated the conversation.”

The session was hosted by the Center for Multicultural Affairs and the Ideas and Issues Committee of the Campus Activities Team.

The staff of the Center for Multicultural Affairs appeared pleased with the turnout for the event, which has been planned since April of this year. The derogatory graffiti found in Good Counsel and Sullivan residence halls added fuel to the need for such a session.

Charisma Presley, one of the people who helped organize “Unfinished Conversations” within the Center for Multicultural Affairs, stressed that the key in reducing racism and embracing diversity is education and conversation.

“People need to realize you need to speak up and fill in the blanks,” Presley said. “We all bring something to the table; we are all diverse. Conversations aren’t to change your mind, just open you to new perspectives. Conversations will make you a better person.”

The Center for Multicultural Affairs has additional plans to educate Villanova students and faculty about racism and diversity.

In the spring, the Center will host their annual MLK Day of Service. Also, Tim Wise, another speaker, will be on campus on March 29 to hold another discussion on diversity.

“Racism is prevalent everywhere, but Villanova is working to be proactive,” Presley said. “When you hurt, I hurt. That’s what it feels like to be a community.”