In response to Senator Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) speech last Tuesday about race relations in America, Tufts' Emerging Black Leaders (EBL) are looking to sponsor a series of follow-up discussions on race that they hope will unite students on campus.
Junior Jennifer Bailey, the president of the EBL, described the necessity of opening up a general dialogue about race relations at Tufts. "I think that race is something that is present but doesn't get discussed openly," Bailey said.
Bailey thinks conversation about race is usually kept "under the surface."
According to Bailey, Obama's speech was important because it put the issue of race relations in the national spotlight. "I've heard a lot of speeches about race relations... but not one in this public of a forum," she said.
She praised "the fact that he was bold enough to have this sort of conversation," and to hold both blacks and whites accountable for opening up an honest conversation about race.
The speech surprised her "in a good way," she said.
Although plans for beginning a dialogue about race at Tufts are still preliminary, Bailey hopes to start with smaller conversations among campus community leaders, perhaps in the form of a roundtable discussion.
The EBL want to "start with small conversations," she said. "That sort of conversation is what doesn't go on." Bailey hopes these smaller group discussions will lead to brainstorming about ways to raise awareness about racial issues.
Bailey said that she plans to get a variety of student groups involved in the talks.
"Historically, the groups that have been [discussing this issue are] cultural groups on campus," she said. This time, however, Bailey said the goal will be "not only engaging cultural groups, but also political groups and groups of students that don't necessarily identify with a racial minority... groups that might not take an immediate interest in this."
Ultimately, the goal is to unify communities that have typically been "very separated on campus," and the discussions will hopefully bring diversity at Tufts to a new level, Bailey said. Working with Tufts professors is also part of the plan to increase dialogue about race. "Professors often get lost in the shuffle," Bailey said.
The EBL held their fourth annual Emerging Black Leaders Symposium earlier this month. The fledgling plans for future dialogue will act as both a follow-up to the symposium and a response to Obama's speech.
The symposium featured a speech from the Rev. C. T. Vivian, a Civil Rights Movement leader who founded Upward Bound, a federal education program aimed at giving certain groups of underprivileged high school students the opportunity to attend college. It also held discussion panels on black women in underrepresented professional fields and leaders in black communities.
The EBL came about in 2004 when several Tufts undergraduates founded the group out of disappointment with the "lack of intellectual discourse on the African Diaspora," Bailey said. The first annual Emerging Black Leaders Symposium was held in 2005, and the organization has expanded to include a number of community outreach programs each year as well as the annual symposium.
In addition, the EBL has extended its reach beyond the Tufts community. "We also do a huge amount of community outreach with local minorities," Bailey said.
These programs include the College Access Medford Program (CAMP), which educates Medford High School students about the college-application and financial-aid processes, and the Sankofa Youth Project, which allows high school students to become involved with the EBL through workshops and discussions about community leadership, youth development, eduation and active citizenship.
While the EBL are using Obama's speech as a springboard for opening up discussion about race relations at Tufts, they have not endorsed a specific candidate for president.
© 2008 Tufts Daily via U-WIRE