Alison Estep, Assistant Vice President of University Communications
University Communications attended a workshop called “Storytelling Strategies for Dismantling Racism” held at the Centilia Cultural Center last spring. This training event was funded by a seed grant from the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. My sense is that each person in our department experienced this training differently, bringing their own lived experiences, viewpoints, and sensitivities. We collectively uncovered more differences among our reactions than I think anyone could have expected. This was a pretty raw type of training event and we all came away with our own reactions.
Speaking for myself, I can say this event had a profound impact. One of the charges of the facilitators to the participants was to adopt an attitude of “deep listening.” For me, someone who has benefited all my life for being white, this deep listening meant setting aside my impulse to be defensive.
The facilitator was tough but I endeavored to shed my rationalizations and just listen and experience the passion of candid sharing and critique. And sometimes this hurt. I don’t like to think of myself as going through life with privilege because of my race. I certainly don’t want to believe that I see race first and someone’s sacred humanity second. I struggle to accept that I am bringing a lens of race to so much of my life. These are humbling and convicting notions.
I am grateful for the chance to step back and listen attentively; to shed my arguments. This journey of becoming more self-aware around race and inequity was helped along for me because of this workshop. Getting uncomfortable – deeply listening to another person’s lived experience – moved me to a place of greater empathy.
Jayne Hubbard '19, Director of SPU's Theatre and Music Departments' production of Violet
"Being given the opportunity to perform a script that was intentionally racially inclusive allowed for the telling of a very diverse story.” – Austin Dodd ’21 (Violet’s Father, Ensemble)
“This cast is diverse in a number of ways, and…the powerful story we told would not [have been] possible without each different mind adding their wisdom and heart.” – Kat Carlson ’19 (Violet)
When I first read the full script for Violet, a musical by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley, I knew it was a story SPU needed to hear. The characters were specific, gritty, and diverse. This story of strong-willed Southerners traveling via Greyhound bus in 1964 features a tangible reality unlike anything else in the musical theatre canon.
“Violet was special and unlike any piece of theater I’ve been a part of. I wanted to show that intentionality and that love on stage whenever I could. It…made me understand that those different types of love existed in the world of the play, but…also…inside of us and in the space we created for each other.” – Spencer Vigil ’19 (Bus Driver, Radio Singer, Virgil, Ensemble)
Once we got into the process, though, I felt way over my head. As a 22-year-old white woman, how was I to direct a show that featured such serious racism? I reached out to Dr. Mayo for help. She led me to discover that my job was to listen to the actors and designers, and prompt conversations, particularly about the most challenging issues. Dr. Mayo joined the case and crew for a group discussion on how the themes of race play a part in each of our roles. From there, we were able to establish a common language and approach to all our respective fields. The resulting production was powerful for participants and audiences alike.
Charity Osborn, Assistant Professor of Business Law
Three weeks into teaching graduate level Business Ethics for the very first time, I — a middle-aged white woman charged with educating 22 mostly full-time working professionals, only two of whom were white and American — casually tossed a metaphorical lit match over my shoulder.
“Have you ever experienced unconscious bias or been excluded as a result of in-group favoritism?”
A moment of silent incredulity, and then, the room erupted. I stood by helplessly, mostly silently, for nearly 30 minutes, while students engaged in heated, visceral, and personal debate. Finally, the class period ended, and everyone left — with zero resolution. I was devastated.
When I called Dr. Mayo the next morning, she listened sympathetically and gave me some practical pedagogical ideas. But mostly, she reminded me that much of our ‘job’ as professors is to model reconciliation and encouraged me to get back in there, in spite of the breach — and to invite my students to do the same.
I reentered the classroom the next week with two photographs: first, a silly picture of a deer with giant goggle eyes — a deer in the headlights. That was me, and I apologized. Second, a beautifully set dinner table. Would they forgive me, and rejoin me at the learning table?
For the next ten minutes, I feared their answer was “no.” I awkwardly started class, walking through slides and posing questions with little student response. Then, one student tentatively reengaged, and others quickly followed. Soon, we were talking and laughing together. We were back at the table again.