Butler Founder’s Week: Undoing Racism Workshop

 On February 10, 2017, as part of Founder’s Week at Butler University, a presentation entitled “The Undoing Racism Workshop” was held at Irwin Library. Dr. Terri Jett, an Associate Professor of Political Science and Special Assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusivity at Butler University, hosted the event.

Butler’s Founder’s Week was created to celebrate the life and legacy of Ovid Butler. Butler was a lawyer and philanthropist who practiced law in Indianapolis for many years and was an active advocate of the anti-slavery movement. The abolitionist ideals of diversity and equality flowed into Butler’s passion for education where in 1855 he founded Butler as the first university to admit women and people of color on an equal basis with white males.

Prior to the presentation, Dr. Jett showed a video created for Founder’s Week that presented the question, “What does justice mean to you?” The video featured interviews from Butler faculty, staff, students, and even children of Butler employees who represented a diverse range of ages and ethnicities. One young girl around the age of five spoke about what justice meant to her, saying, “Justice means that everyone should be treated equally”. Some might consider it a simple statement, however, it’s truth is apparent and it is a phrase that can be put into action.

After the video, the presentation on The Undoing Racism Workshop began and was held by two workers from Child Advocates. Adrienne Reed, Director of the Volunteer Program of Child Advocates Inc. at Indianapolis; and Andrea Manning-Dudley, Guardian and Litem of Child Advocates Inc. at Indianapolis.

As the two women explained, their line of work involves heavy interaction within the larger community of Marion County. Unfortunately, there are many instances in Marion county in which children are abused and neglected in their homes. At one point in time, children  in Marion County didn’t have easy access to legal representation in child abuse cases. As a result, the Child Advocates program became introduced in 1982. Child Advocates works to provide mediation services, foster care, financial assistance for educational purposes, and provide both safe and permanent homes.

In order to fulfill those services, Child Advocates trains volunteers who are assigned to a neglected or abused child. Those volunteers contact caseworkers, interview parents, secure necessary medical care, look out for a child’s educational interests and make recommendations in court regarding the placement of the child. Andrea Manning-Dudley said, “We all are products of our environment.” To the volunteers, it’s not just an assignment, it’s about trying to make a personal impact through their interactions with the child.

After a brief introduction to the important mission and work of Child Advocates , Reed and Manning-Dudley began their presentation on“The Undoing Racism Workshop”, which is sponsored by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The workshops usually occur over the course of  two or three full days. Their format includes group discussions, reflection, role-playing, and presentations. Overall, the workshops have the goal of challenging participants to examine the underlying structures of law and social privilege that hinder social equity. Adrienne Reed and Andrea Manning-Dudley emphasized that the workshops aren’t always comfortable, however they effectively build awareness of structural and underlying racism in this country that the average person might not notice. Racism is the primary barrier that prevents communities from being unified and overcoming institutionalized inequities.

One example of something which hinders social equity can be seen with the education system. Some public schools throughout America do not adequately and accurately cover American slavery in their curriculum. Public schools in Texas barely address racial segregation, treating it as a side issue and the state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws. Another example given was the criminal justice system. There is racial bias in jury selection. Qualified black jurors are illegally turned away as much as 80 percent of the time in the jury selection process. Additionally, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes in the federal system.

Overall, the “Undoing Racism Workshop” works to analyze these types of situations and show how it influences policies and practices.

During the presentation, Adrienne Reed talked about examining the structure of privilege in this country. Racial oppression develops as a form of racial superiority. The process of racial superiority conveys itself as unearned privileges, and access to institutional power. Adrienne Reed emphasized that there are invisible advantages based upon race and not many people are aware of it. She said “As a white woman, I know I have my fair share of privileges. I try to teach my children about that.”

At the end of the presentation, a Q & A session took place with the audience. Questions centered on racism and how to get involved with the workshops.
By: Wesley Bryant

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