Tuesday saw this year's first Carolina Conversations, a discussion addressing institutional prejudices. Kia Caldwell, a professor of African, African American and diaspora studies, moderated the panel.
"We hope that today's panel will be a starting point for faculty, students and staff to continue having courageous conversations that engage different perspectives and encourage critical reflections about timely social issues and challenges," Caldwell said.
Dana Thompson Dorsey, a panelist and education professor, said she has her students keep a journal in order to critically think about their interactions with others. She said racism is in fact pervasive.
"This is a country that was built on racism. Even though you aren't the person who went to Africa to bring slaves to this country, it still is a fact," she said. "Although you can say things have changed, it doesn't change the foundation."
María DeGuzmán, a comparative literature professor, said students should reflect on their own position and relationship with America.
"Start to acknowledge your own vexed relationship to fear and success," DeGuzmán said. "At the very center of this country is the American dream, and most students who are in college have bought into it."
DeGuzmán said she advises students to think about their relationship to the U.S. as a country of immigrants and what it means to be successful. She recommended students consider their family history. "Your history is ethnic. It's racial. It's class," DeGuzmán said.
She said marginalization of different groups in America has shifted over time. Now, the phrase "people without papers" is used to describe Latinos and Latinas, DeGuzmán said, but the term once pejoratively referred to Italian immigrants.
Carl Ernst, a religious studies professor, said a similar idea of what it means for many to be American permeates the discussion regarding Islamophobia.
"It's not really about religion. It is an issue of citizenship and what it takes to be fully American," he said. "We have interests who are deliberately increasing this kind of hatred and exploiting it opportunistically."He said students should think critically about how media perpetuate prejudices.
When thinking about the recent student protests at University of Missouri, Dorsey said students have more power than they think. "There's power in numbers, and students on a university campus have a lot of power," she said. "Our tuition dollars are keeping this institution alive, but we still think that we are silent."
No more Carolina Conversations are currently scheduled.