During Ed Lee III's online discussion about a “Return to Normalcy” on Tuesday, he asked participants, "When and what is the normal we are being asked to return to?”
Lee, senior director of the Barkley Forum at Emory University, hosted the discussion that focused on race and racism within the context of current events. It was the first of a three-part series of workshops sponsored by the University of South Carolina’s Collaborative on Race within the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I find that one of the things I’m vested in is, how do we cultivate spaces where we bring people together with different perspectives and different ideas, and build durable containers that are capable of holding the myriad of differences that show up?” Lee said. “I’m hoping that we can do that with our time together this evening.”
Participants, including USC students and faculty, participated in small group conversations addressing three rounds of questions Lee asked.
“What is the vision of the world we should be working towards? How is your vision of where we should be going different from that?” Lee asked.
Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said appreciating the differences between people would be her example of a world to work toward.
“My utopia is where we appreciate and value and celebrate differences, and that differences do not create any inequities among anybody,” Devine said.
Janella Fernandez, coordinator of operations and events for USC Campus Recreation, related her experiences in diversity training at Campus Recreation to Devine's suggestion.
"Everyone hears that the United States of America is the melting pot of the world. But I don’t want to be a melting pot, I want to be a tossed salad. I want to see the greens; I want to see the carrots; I want to see the peppers and cucumbers,” Fernandez said.
Once the group conversations were over, Lee asked participants to share some themes or "aha moments" they encountered during discussion.
Todd Shaw, associate professor of political science, shared his "aha moment" with the forum. He said a conversation he had in the small group discussion made him think on the topic of government.
“In [my] last group, we heard this discussion, and we’ve heard this said about how democracy is a fragile thing that we have to be vigilant and always sort of be engaged, and always be mindful of what we see as the just society and work for that and continue to work for that,” Shaw said. "That’s a bit depressing. Depressing in a sense that it is always so precarious.”
Lee also proposed the idea of using conversations to find common ground in politics and as people.
“For me, the more that I disagree with someone, the more I try to be fascinated by and curious in how they got there. And is there an opportunity for us to find a space of mutuality,” Lee said.
The series of Ed Talks on Race workshops will continue on Feb. 22 with “White Supremacy” and March 22 with “Caste.” Advance registration can be found on the College of Arts and Science’s website.