The Sarah Lawrence community took a critical look at the complexities of race and identity in the United States last spring, as two symposia and a lecture series brought more than two dozen speakers to campus. The events coincided with the first year of Ethnic and Diasporic Studies at the College.
Race and Contemporary American Society Lecture Series
Speakers discussed the little-known struggle to include a “multiracial” category on the U.S. Census, combating racial inequality in America’s schools, and success narratives and racial violence. This ongoing lecture series was organized by political science faculty member David Peritz.
“Understanding both the persistence and transformations of race and racism remains a major challenge for anyone committed to what Lincoln termed the founding proposition of our society: the ideal of equality.”
—David Peritz, political science faculty
“Rethinking the Racial Politics of the New Deal: Citizenship, Public Policy, and Social Welfare”
The New Deal enlarged “social citizenship” through major programs like social security, unemployment insurance, public welfare, farm relief, and the G.I. Bill—all of which largely excluded people of color.
At this day-long symposium organized by history faculty member Komozi Woodard and Jeanne Theoharis of Brooklyn College, scholars from across the nation considered the New Deal as a critical turning point for the destiny of “whites” and “non-whites,” particularly African-Americans, in the United States.
“The government insisted that no project should be insured that involved a high degree of risk with regard to ‘economic stability’ or ‘protection from adverse influences.’ Both of these criteria were interpreted to mean neighborhoods with African-Americans. The result was that the Federal Housing Administration overwhelmingly supported white borrowers and suburban housing, which correspondingly disadvantaged both African-Americans and the country’s central cities.”
—Gail Radford, author of Modern Housing in America: Policy Struggles in the New Deal Era
“This shift from ‘race as biological’ to ‘race as cultural’ hardened class and cultural divisions within the African-American community.”
—Permilla Nadasen, author of Welfare Warriors
“Racism is not just left over from slavery and Southern redemption. It also has modern and deeply liberal roots.”
—Jeanne Theoharis, author of Not Working: Latina Immigrants, Low-Wage Jobs and the Failure of Welfare Reform
“The advantages of veteran status did not cross racial lines. But even so, veteran status opened educational and occupational distinctions among African-Americans.”
—Michael Katz, author of The Price of Citizenship
The Race and Poetry Symposium: “Writing the American Landscape”
Writing faculty members Jeffrey McDaniel ’90 and Tina Chang brought guest poets, students, and faculty together in March to explore the way poetry addresses culture, ethnicity, language, and self-perception.
Poets Edwin Torres, Patricia Smith, Ravi Shankar, and Paisley Rekdal, among others, joined SLC writing faculty for lively panel discussions on the complexities, challenges, and joys associated with writing across race and culture.
The symposium was sponsored by the Dean of the College’s Office, the President’s Office, the Diane Leslie Fund, and the Office of Student Affairs.
—Amira Johnson MFA ’07 and Joseph Caputo ’07
“I always say the poet has no nation and no territory. The poet is a citizen of the world.”
—Edwin Torres, author of The All-Union Day of the Shock Worker
“If the poets can’t talk about race and racism, then we are really in trouble. The place we write from is often deeper down inside than the place we talk from.”
—Jeffrey McDaniel, writing faculty
“Community to me is accepting an identity that everyone probably feels has been partly foisted on them and partly invented by them.”
—Paisley Rekdal, author of The Invention of the Kaleidoscope
“I think one of the interesting things about poetry is you have to reconcile the description that the world has of you, even if it is racialized, with an idea you have of yourself.”
—Vijay Seshadri, director of the graduate writing program in nonfiction