The first dinner, which occurred on February 19, was open to students who identify as a person of color, the second dinner, planned for March 4, was open to students who identify as white, and the third was open to students who do not identify with either of the groups. Riley described the dinners as a venue for students to share their experiences regarding their racial identity and the Conversations on Race program thus far.
Riley held three previous dinners at her house in the fall, open to all students grades 9-12. The responses to those dinners were generally positive, with many students appreciating the candor and depth of the conversations they partook in. “It was a really constructive opportunity to speak with Ms. Riley and get a better understanding of where she and the administration are coming from when considering issues like this,” said Grace El-Fishawy ’18.
The main difference between the earlier dinners and the current ones is the separation of students into affinity groups, with the purpose of conversing on race from a different angle. “My first impression was that it was heavily reminiscent of segregation,” commented Matt Spence ’16. “I understand the establishment is going for affinity groups where students might feel more comfortable among others of similar backgrounds, but I think that separating people into different groups based on their races now is huge step backwards in the process.
I felt offended that I would have to define myself by a certain category in order to figure out which dinner I could attend. The solution to a problem that divides people should not be to further divide them; the solution should be to bring people together and break down the color barrier.”
Students who attended the February 19 dinner appreciated the intimate setting and open conversation. Nia Simmons ’18 commented: “I think that it was a good way for the students to get to share their ideas with Mrs. Riley, and also share stories.”
As promised, the group of students who attended spoke about their experiences regarding race inside and outside school as well as their opinion on the conversation thus far. According to attendees, the general consensus of the group was that sharing real stories and experiences in a setting such as Assembly would better enable students who do not identify as people of color to understand. “I was really satisfied with the conversation at the dinner,” added Lionel Louis ’18. “My original doubts about it turned out to be in vain.”
From the stories shared, the attendees of the dinner agreed that in the Hopkins community, racism primarily exhibits itself through small but pervasive microaggressions.
“A lot of people don’t realize just how demeaning some of the things that they do are, like touching my hair without permission or assuming I know every rap song on the planet,” commented Chrisshara Robinson ’16. “People make jokes or ask me questions that reflect racial stereotypes,” added Simmons ’18.
These dinners are part of the last events marking Hopkins’s first year long Conversations on Race program, with one more speaker and discussion meeting to come later in the Spring. Throughout the year, the Hopkins community has learned much from the speakers, events, and discussions that were held, but the conversation is far from over. “The concepts and intentions of the conversation are great, of course” added Louis, “But there are some flaws in the way it is being carried out; many people are still fixated on the definition of racism from the first film we watched as a school: I’m Not Racist, Am I?. We have a ways to go.”