Courageous Conversations: students tackle the intersection of race and sexual identity

Students participate in the Courageous Conversations discussion the Intercultural Center sponsored in the South Village Great Room on Tuesday night. Julia Walters/Snapper

Julia Walters
Associate News Editor

The topics of race and sexual identity may seem like separate issues, but in the most recent Courageous Conversations event put on by the Intercultural Center for Student Engagement and the Social Work’s Learning Institute, they are very much intertwined. 

The event started with students sitting in a large circle to stimulate inclusive discussion. In this space, the leaders of the discussion from the Intercultural Center made it clear that all perspectives and values were respected, that this was a no judgement zone, and to only ask meaningful and genuine questions to further progress the conversation. 

Students were open and engaged throughout the entire discussion. Though touching on some uncomfortable and awkward topics at times, such as the ignorance of certain offensive identity labels given to minority groups, the discussion always remained respectful and open to judgement-free explanations. 

Tara Cottman, who is a Social Work Intern for the Intercultural Center, believes that these Courageous Conversations are a great unifier for students as well as educating them on important topics: “It’s about educating people and coming out whether you’re passionate about a topic or don’t know much about it. It’s just all about bringing people together.” The support and reception for these types of discussions has been extremely positive for the Intercultural Center so far. “As long as people are going to come out and support and engage, we’re doing pretty good.”

A wide range of topics covered included the idea that racism is not only a problem for heterosexuals. Racism is prevalent in the LGBT+ community as well. Often, it exists and is explained as a type of preference. For example, if someone justifies not wanting to be in a relationship with an African American because the race is “not their preference,”  this is a form of structural racism that is shaped by learned values over time, not an inherent inclination for or against something. A statement like this essentially means that one is generalizing others based on race alone, essentially dehumanizing an entire group of people. 

The discussion touched on combating this by recognizing that this form of structural racism exists and impacts interactions with others. Making people aware of this provides a way for people to check themselves during conversations and other interactions between people. 

How the media portray LGBT+ couples was also touched on. Most of the time, LGBT+ couples in television are predominantly white. On one hand, it’s progressive and encouraging that the media show this relationship diversity. However, it often excludes healthy LGBT+ relationships with racial and ethnic diversity where one partner is not abusive, dying, or generally unhappy. 

The power of labels and what they can do is something that the entire conversation touched on greatly. It was pointed out that people will often give themselves an identity that they are content with. If one chooses to create themselves a label, they are in control of that term and how it is perceived by others. Many times, people who choose to give themselves a label are already in a majority group. Minorities, on the other hand, are often being given labels. This, therefore, puts them out of control of how their identity is being perceived by others. 

Part of why people choose to put labels on themselves are to feel included in a group and to know that no one is truly ever alone. This can be a positive thing if that label is controlled by the person it is referring to; it can also be extremely negative if it is unwillingly placed upon someone else. Especially for a diverse group of students on a college campus, how labels affect people is an important concept to understand. 

Another topic discussed was the rifts within the LGBT+ community as a whole. Despite being known as a collective minority group, there are still smaller minorities within the larger one. This includes the white LGBT+ group, the black LGBT+ group, and females who are LGBT+ to name a few. There is oppression present in these smaller groups that needs to be fought in order to remain a unified group that is inclusive and safe for all members of the LGBT+ community, not just those who are white. 

This Courageous Conversations about Race and Sexual Identity is one example of how we can work together to break down barriers between segregated groups of people. Open dialogue forces everyone involved to challenge their perceptions and clash the stereotypes that are learned from society. 

The discussion ended with what role we all can play in learning about various minority groups on campus. The strongest emphasis was placed on the idea that it is up to everyone to be educated on groups of people different from themselves and to not live in ignorance. It is not the responsibility of a minority group to educate others; that obligation is up to everyone.