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Expert: Racial relations visible in college setting

BY HILLARY ROSENCRANTS | MARCH 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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One expert in race relations says college is the ideal atmosphere for recognizing how and when racial disparities occur.

Tina Harris, a professor at the University of Georgia, was this year’s featured speaker at the Department of Communications 2013 Hitchcock Lecture, which took place Tuesday evening in the Becker Communications Studies Building.

“The Interracial Communications Course I teach exposes students to various pedagogical tools that challenge and foster critical thinking about communication within racial hierarchy,” Harris said. “The college classroom is an excellent site for challenging students to actively promote social justice in their real lives.”

Harris is confident that she reaches out to students, and she is hopeful that this meeting widened the horizons of the UI students who were in attendance.

Harris, an expert in the field of racial relations, teaches two classes at her university, Interracial Communications and African American Relational Communication. Additionally, Harris has three published works concerning race and interracial communication.

“I’m concerned with the practical application of knowledge,” she said. “People take my courses to graduate or to fulfill a multicultural requirement, but what are they really doing with this information? I’m hoping we can bring about some kind of change.”

The lecture outlined issues of pedagogy and Harris’s research concerning racial micro-aggressions, which are subtle, racial insults — verbal, nonverbal, and/or visual.

Harris pointed out eight types of racial micro-aggressions from her research: racial slurs, racial labeling, racial jokes, stereotype perpetuation, covert racism, ethnic humor, self-incrimination, and overt racism.

When contacted Tuesday evening, several UI sociology professors said there wasn’t similar research going on the university’s campus.

However, the UI has an African American population of only 2.7 percent, with a total minority enrollment of 12.6 percent, according to a fall 2012 report from the Registrar’s Office.

Harris detailed nine typical responses to micro-aggression, which vary from avoidance to self-censure and mediation.

Melissa Kampa and Erin Brummett, graduate students and liaisons for the Hitchcock Lecture, helped to select Harris to speak.

“We open up a nomination process, and we nominate a scholar to speak,” Kampa said. “We organize a vote among graduate students in order to decide who should come talk.”

Harris’ research is well-known by some on campus.

“I study race, and I adore [Harris], and I think it’s so important. Race is a topic that doesn’t get talked about enough,” Brummett said.

Harris provided a series of exemples, which detailed the various types of micro-aggression as well as the responses, typically in the format of a true experience relayed to her by a student.

Harris’s courses, though described by Harris herself as very challenging, have a waiting list.

“It makes me nervous, because it means I’m either doing something right or something very, very wrong,” she said.

However, the issues Harris discusses are often overlooked, but she hopes to bring about a difference among students, at the University of Georgia and otherwise.

“I’m not saying my students should change the world,” Harris said. “But [they should] at least have some kind of knowledge that will move them toward some level of change.”


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