Ray Warren symposium sparks race discourse

Photo by Jackson Sundheim

By Audrey Barret

The 14th annual Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies, titled “Legacy, Race and Remembrance,” took place Nov. 8 through 10. Keynote speakers and panels offered an opportunity for Lewis & Clark students and community members to delve into the study of race and ethnicity, and the symposium concluded with the annual Race Monologues.

This year’s theme centered around memory, storytelling and imagination. It explored how history is commemorated, how race and ethnicity shapes the narrative and the idea of remembering as resistance.

“I want people to really take the symposium as a series of tools they could use in order to step out into the world as social justice leaders and people who could advocate for others,” symposium co-chair Christen Cromer ’18 said.

Speakers were chosen based on how they shared the intersection of memory and race in their personal experiences.

“It’s to bring people who wouldn’t normally be in a classroom, who aren’t white male professors, and put them up on this platform, because their knowledge is just as valid,” symposium co-chair Alexander Castanes ’18 said.

The symposium sought to bring students, who might not otherwise enter an ethnic studies class, into the conversation about race so that they might gain some insight into these relevant and contentious issues.

“It’s really important for students to realize the way that race works, on our campus, in our city, more broadly in our country,” Associate Professor of Sociology Sarah Warren said.

“My first symposium was super eye opening,” Castanes said. “When Charlottesville happened and there was all this talk of Confederate monuments and white supremacists coming out with crazy understandings of history … it made our symposium even more relevant. White supremacy is not a thing of the past.”

Jelani Cobb, historian and award-winning New Yorker staff writer, said that modern America is a complicated and contradictory society.

“We can’t really understand this country if we don’t understand race,” Cobb said in his keynote presentation on Nov. 9.

“I thought the talk was very current and it gave me insight into the way I view events concerning race in America,” Annie Austrian ’21 said.

“It made me wonder what else my old history textbook might have flat out lied about,” Dani Witt ’19 said.

Magali Rabasa, Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies, said that at LC, people are commemorated in the names of buildings and halls. Many of these people contributed to the colonization of the West and helped negotiate land treaties that robbed indigenous people of their land. She said that LC is built on Chinook territory.

“I am reminded of this visible legacy daily, as I move around the campus and go about my everyday activities,” Rabasa said.

Adam Becenti, panel speaker and community development specialist, believes it is his obligation as a descendant of Native Americans to grapple with historical and intergenerational trauma.

“Our job is to remember who we are, the strength we have within us,” Becenti said.

Overall, the symposium this year was considered a success, reflecting the months of hard work put into planning the three-day event.

“The feedback we’ve received from the various community members that came up to us and engaged in conversation about the events they attended was always positive, like ‘these are the most terrific speakers that ever came to campus,’” Cromer said.

Every year the theme changes, so the content is radically different, but Cromer says the campus is always more educated as a result.  

“It’s important that people find someone they connect with, and still find the desire to continue those conversations and continue searching,” symposium co-chair Michelle Waters ’19 said.

The Race Monologues, which actually have been going on longer than the Ray Warren symposium, are a key component of the event.

“The role of Race Monologues is really to be a platform for students of color to advocate for themselves and to create a community amongst themselves and how they experience race and ethnicity in their lives,” Cromer said. “They’re always really powerful, and they’re always a place to gain insight on how people are living their lives, and something I will always treasure after I leave Lewis & Clark.”

Cromer believes having people speak about their personal lives is more powerful than the often abstract academic conversations on race and ethnic studies, and the intimate community it creates among the participants is empowering.

“The empathetic relationships we were able to create with one another were really special this year,” co-coordinator of the Race Monologues Maya Hernandez ’19 said. “I think the monologues depend a lot on group dynamics and being able to share such personal stories with one another. Feeling comfortable enough to do so was really empowering, and I think the audience really got that.”

Co-coordinator of Race Monologues Bradley Ralph ’19 said that the monologues seemed to carry less overt anger this year compared to last year’s, which he felt were more powered by the emotional upheaval of the presidential election. Ralph commended the time and effort that the presenters poured into their monologues.

“We’ve worked on these since the end of September, we’ve had workshops every week and then three rehearsals,” Ralph said. “Watching people progress from what they had at that first workshop to the piece that they gave, I was proud of the success of the event as a whole and then also proud of all of the presenters that were able to tell their story.”

Waters hopes that the presenters’ valiant work will engender a wider conversation outside of the monologues themselves.

“The presenters take on something that’s super courageous, that requires a large degree of strength and reassurance,” Waters said. “I definitely see the symposium as a starting point … I think people should find inspiration to continue those discussions.”

Cobb believes Americans have the power to make real change in how race and ethnicity impact people’s lives.

“Being inside the hegemonic power of our country is an opportunity,” Cobb said.

At the end of Cobb’s presentation on Nov. 9, the auditorium gave a standing ovation.

“I think it gets a lot of people excited about what they hear, and I hope people take that into their everyday lives and into their scholarship,” Castanes said. “It’s an opportunity for people to start thinking about their own memories, their history.”  

“We encourage people not to let the symposium be the only time they engage with these complex discussions, that there’s various other campus events you can engage with and intimate spaces within your own life,” Cromer said. “You don’t have to restrict these conversations to such formal places. Since race and ethnicity plays a role in our lives all the time, it needs to be spoken about all the time.”

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