Diversity talks at URI to spark ideas

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KINGSTON, R.I., January 25, 2013 – Want to learn how zombie movies reflect race and gender stereotypes or how African-American men are portrayed in Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple. Then come to this year’s “Diversity Brown Bag Discussions” at the University of Rhode Island.

“The series brings relevant and riveting issues to the table,” says Mailee Kue, assistant director of URI’s Multicultural Center. “We’re featuring speakers who are thinkers in their field with topics sure to garner interest. Our goal is to get the campus community – students, staff, and faculty – talking about diversity.”

The talks by professors and graduate students will be held throughout the year at the Multicultural Center, Hardge Forum, Room 101. Free and open to the public, the discussions are from noon to 1 p.m. Pack a lunch and bring your ideas. Participation is encouraged.

• Thursday, Jan. 31 – Gerard J. Holder, URI’s deputy Title IX coordinator and assistant director of Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity, will talk about “Hidden Bias: An Impact on Social Justice, Values, and Leadership.” Hidden bias in the subconscious mind, he says, allows well-meaning people to make catastrophic mistakes that affect their lives and careers.

• Thursday, Feb. 14 – Naomi R. Thompson, J.D., the University’s chief diversity officer and associate vice president of Community, Equity and Diversity, will talk about campus efforts to promote fair treatment, diversify the campus demographic composition, broaden and deepen its curricular offerings, and cultivate a welcoming and inclusive campus culture and community where members are respected and valued. Her talk is called “A Voice for the Students: Understanding Community, Equity, and Diversity.”

• Thursday, Feb. 28 – Judah-Micah Lamar, a doctoral fellow in the English department, will present a reading of the antagonist in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Color Purple. Set mostly in rural Georgia, the novel tells the story of a young African-American woman’s struggle in a world of sexism, racism, and poverty. “This discussion will seek to open dialogue about the ways in which black men are portrayed by black women authors in literature, and how society at large misreads black men through fragmented lenses as damaged goods,” says Lamar.

• Thursday, March 21 – Yvette Harps-Logan, a professor in the textiles, fashion merchandising and design department at URI, will talk about why people buy certain clothes and how their choices reflect cultural identity. “People buy apparel depending on their cultural values, their ethnicity, their gender, and their religion,” says Harps-Logan.

• Thursday, April 11 – Nancy Caronia, a doctoral candidate in English and part-time faculty member at URI’s College of Continuing Education, will discuss how our fascination with zombie apocalypse tales – an obsession cultivated by the popular TV show The Walking Dead and the film 28 Days Later – reflect race and gender in the 21st century.

• Thursday, April 25 – Clarissa Walker, a doctoral student in writing and rhetoric in the English department at URI, will discuss how tourists in Central America on cruises, spring break, and family vacations impact the culture of the Garifuna, descendants from Arawak, Carib, and West African roots. Her talk is called “When the Dance is Over: The Exoticization of the Garifuna of Central America.”

URI is also sponsoring events and activities in February to celebrate Black History Month. The keynote speaker is Charles J. Ogletree, a Harvard law professor and longtime friend and adviser to President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Ogletree’s talk is at 7 p.m. Feb. 5 in URI’s Memorial Union Ballroom. The lecture, “Post-racial America in the Age of Obama,” is free and open to the public. He will also sign a copy of his latest book, The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Race, Class, and Crime in America.

This year’s Black History Month theme at URI comes from the work of African-American writer W.E.B. Du Bois. In his classic, The Souls of Black Folk, he calls African-Americans the “seventh son,” or the disinherited and despised stepson.

“Even though we have progressed racially as a nation, even to the extent of having an African-American president, we are still seeing troubling signs of marginalization and racial oppression,” says Professor Vanessa Quainoo, director of the Africana Studies Program at URI. “By raising the Black History Month theme, we are inviting reflection on the past, present and yet hopeful future for African-Americans and their progress.”

For more information about the “brown bag” discussions, please contact Kue at maileekue@uri.edu. For information about Ogletree’s talk, please call Africana Studies at 401-874-2536.

Victoria Antonelli, a senior journalism major interning at the URI Marketing and Communications Department, wrote this press release.