Talking Race: New Peer-Education Program Set to Empower Young Adults to Deepen Their Understanding Of Racism

Difficult, awkward, frightening, uncomfortable… These are a few of the terms college students and young adults have used to describe their feelings about tackling conversations about race and racism. However, despite the challenge these topics present, anti-racist educators say these are issues students are eager to address.

“Our students are hungry to develop their understanding of race and racism in the U.S., but often don’t feel comfortable facilitating these conversations on their own,” explained Honors College Professors Megha Anwer and Lindsay Weinberg.

Enter a new set of workshops titled “Talking Race: Peer Education and Community Empowerment.” Funded by the INcommon Grant from Indiana Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities, these sessions will use a relatively unexplored approach for teaching issues of race, inclusion, privilege and discrimination—peer-to-peer education.

During the March workshops, Honors College Student Diversity Officers (SDOs) will offer their peers concrete strategies for engaging in difficult conversations, collaborating with people from socio-culturally diverse groups, and exploring their own implicit and explicit biases. 

“We have seen young people consistently express discomfort, or experience fear, at the prospect of making others uncomfortable when talking about race,” explained Anwer and Weinberg. “This overwhelming anxiety about giving and taking offense can ultimately bolster racism in that it allows young people to avoid interrogating their assumptions about race and racial differences.”

Workshop facilitators say the peer-to-peer context is uniquely valuable because it allows young adults to witness people their own age making critical interventions. Using humanities texts and methodologies, the SDOs will empower their peers with a shared vocabulary and tool-kit, and explore theoretical and practical knowledge, to engage in anti-racist work. Ultimately, organizers hope that participants will feel a boost in their own preparedness and confidence to take up issues surrounding racism. 

The series is especially poignant given the history of racism, and the continued presence of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in Indiana. The faculty organizers hope that the workshops will promote critical self-reflection and supportive dialogue, ultimately transforming apathy and difficult moments into enlightening opportunities.

“This can have far-reaching impact, not only in the lives of participants, but also for their peers, helping us carve shared visions of a more just world,” Anwer and Weinberg said. “These workshops will be especially helpful for young adults, given that they are in the process of formulating their values.”

Applications to join the free virtual workshop are due by Jan. 31. CLICK HERE to complete an application. The March 6, 13, 20 workshops run from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. College students as well as high school students (ages 17+) are welcome to participate.