St. John’s Launches Conversation Series to Further Antiracism

Profile of 21 peoples heads in boxes
September 4, 2020

Fully embracing antiracism requires breaking the “cycle of socialization,” the process in which members of society are systematically trained by their families and institutions to adopt racist attitudes that lead to oppression, according to a panel recently convened to launch the first of five virtual discussions on racial justice at St. John’s University.  

“You have to clear your mind of what has been told to you about people of other races,” explained Sharod Tomlinson, Director of Student Development at St. John’s. He made his remarks on August 26 as part of the four-member panel called to address the inaugural conversation, “The Socialization of Race and Racism,” that kicked off the series, “Racial Justice Conversations: Becoming Agents of Change.”

“You must listen to the stories and experiences of other people and hear the traumas they have been through. You need to be attentive to the conversations that are happening around you and surround yourself with people from all different walks of life so you can become educated about them and develop a well-rounded perspective of them,” said Mr. Tomlinson, who is also a doctoral candidate in The School of Education and Director of the R.I.S.E. Network, a scholar’s empowerment network that provides Black and Latinx first-year students with skill-based development and support.

He was joined by fellow discussants Robert Fanuzzi, Ph.D., Associate Provost and Director of Civic Engagement at St. John’s Staten Island, NY, campus, and Associate Professor of English and American Studies, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Beverly Greene, Ph.D., ABPP, Professor of Psychology, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and a practicing clinical psychologist in New York and New Jersey; and Edwin Tjoe ’10Ed.D., Assistant Dean of Data Management and eLearning, The School of Education, and part of the Respond and Partner to Engage our Community Team, which provides direct support to any individual impacted by prejudice-based aggression.

Jasmyne Peck ’16CPS, Director of Development at Black Film Allegiance (BFA), as well as a writer/director, provided introductory and concluding remarks at the event.

The creation of the Racial Justice Conversations follows an Antiracism Statement released in June in which St. John’s senior leadership expressed their commitment “to doing the work necessary for St. John’s to become an antiracist institution.”

“We acknowledge it is not enough to be ‘not racist,’” the statement continued. “We must develop actions, policies, and practices that oppose racism, and work to dismantle those which empower racism to persist at St. John’s.”

The Racial Justice Conversations is a collaborative effort by the Office of Alumni RelationsOffice of Equity and InclusionOffice of University EventsOffice of University Mission, and Division of Student Affairs.

 “These conversations were created to provide a space for the St. John’s community to think about our role in the fight for justice,” said Rita Torsney-Sullivan ’20MBA, Associate Director of the Office of University Events at St. John’s and one of the series organizers. She noted the conversation series was devised with three goals in mind: to normalize conversations about racial equity; to encourage people to explore concepts and issues of racial justice more deeply within their own lives; and to equip people with resources and tools to help them become better informed about racism and antiracism.

In opening the event, moderator Carline Bennett, Director of the Ozanam Scholars Program within the Vincentian Institute for Social Action, said the conversation series is intended to provide methods that people can employ to break the cycle of socialization and achieve equitable outcomes. “Our goal,” she added, “is to encourage action.”

When Ms. Bennett asked the discussants how people should respond to acts of racism, Dr. Tjoe said, “It is absolutely essential that we do not remain a bystander when responding to racism. Not getting involved in situations where racism occurs communicates approval of racism, and it leaves victims high and dry. It is necessary to be involved to create that safe space.”

Dr. Greene reminded her fellow discussants and virtual audience to look to history as they strive to achieve permanent racial justice. “It is important to look back in order to move forward,” she said. “There is nothing people of color have encountered today that has not been encountered before. We are drinking from wells that we did not have to dig because others before us did that. We are part of something larger than just ourselves.”

The other four conversations are:

Session 2: 
Construct of Whiteness 
Wednesday, September 9, 1:50 p.m. 

Session 3: 
Construct of Racialized Trauma 
Wednesday, September 23, 1:50 p.m. 

Session 4:
Impact of Power, Privilege, and Oppression  
Wednesday, October 7, 1:50 p.m. 

Session 5:  
A Way Forward: Dismantling Systemic Oppression 
Wednesday, October 21, 6 p.m.