Mason’s Honors College pursues anti-racist community through discussion program

October 23, 2020   /   by Anna Stolley Persky

“Honoring Our Community” is an Honors College initiative that promotes ongoing conversations among groups of students. Photo provided.

George Mason University’s Honors College launched a program this year to help cultivate an anti-racist community by creating a space in which students can discuss issues of racial and social justice. The program, called “Honoring Our Community,” involves encouraging honest conversations among groups of four or five students working with a facilitator. Students who volunteer for the program meet once a month during the academic year.

“Our goal in creating these small communities was that students would have nine months to talk to each other, ask questions of one another, and begin to understand each other’s differences,” said Honors College Dean Zofia Burr.

Burr added that to have honest conversations, “there has to be a trust built first. The students get to know each other in small groups to build that trust.”

Valentino Bryant, director of development in the Honors College, said the “Honoring Our Community” program allows for “meaningful conversations around inequality, inclusion, privilege and systemic racism.

“The Honors College is a strong community doing communal work hand-in-hand with each other, having the hard conversations,” said Bryant. More than 30 students are participating in the program. So far, the groups have met once for about an hour and a half.

President Gregory Washington has made anti-racism efforts a major goal of his tenure at Mason. In September, he announced the members of a newly formed Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force.

Bryant said that the Honors College hopes that their anti-racism program could serve as a model for anti-racist work in other areas at Mason going forward. He said that some of the students in the program this year were preparing to be facilitators next year.

Karmen Perry, University Scholar and Honors College senior majoring in sociology, said she went into the first meeting “with an open mind and heart, ready to learn from people and hoping that they could learn from me.

“We started talking right away, jumping to police brutality,” Perry said. “We ended up sharing resources with each other. I’m looking forward to watching us blossom together as a group as we learn from each other and build an environment in which we can have difficult conversations.”

Johan Jeson, a freshman majoring in information technology, agreed that the first meeting was “fruitful.”

“I’m hoping that we can continue to talk and use these programs to work on promoting change on issues of race and social justice in our community,” said Jeson.