Some Thoughts on the Ray Warren Symposium

This week the 18th annual Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies took place at Lewis and Clark. The symposium was organized and coordinated by several students and the event occurred over several days, with featured speakers, presenters and artists being people of color. The event was beautifully organized and the talks were truly impeccable in scope and delivery. 

As a person of color, I found myself in tears, relating to much of what my peers spoke about the experience of being a person of color. I also feel incredibly grateful to have gotten to listen to others’ experiences because though I am a person of color, there are so many different experiences that come with being a person of color, many of which I personally cannot speak to, nor will I ever be able to speak to. The poise and beauty of which the speakers shared stories about their lives was truly commendable and the courage that the speakers had to express their vulnerability was admirable.

On Thursday night I attended the keynote speaker event “Joy-Not Destination but Practice” presented by professor Ashon Crawley.

Ashon shared a story of actively practicing joy in his life after coming to terms with his queerness and struggling to feel embraced by the church he grew up in. He vividly recounted stories from his life that shaped his experience and ultimately gave him the power to recognize joy as a continuous thing to be practiced rather than something that can be obtained in a linear timeline. 

Ashon also described his art processes where he would listen to affirmations that took him back to his childhood spent in the church and through movement in his body would harness the joy of the affirmation into his body and channel that joy into his life. His presentation was truly beautiful and I am incredibly grateful to have attended and had the privilege of listening to Ashon’s story.

On Friday night I attended the Race Monologues, where several students of color delivered personal self-written monologues. 

As I listened to the monologues, I found them to be incredibly powerful and was brought to tears by many of the speakers’ stories and their vulnerability. I found myself able to relate to many aspects of what the speakers spoke about the experience of being a person of color at Lewis and Clark. The raw authenticity of which the speakers spoke was palpable. 

Race is a topic at Lewis and Clark that often does not get spoken about enough, particularly by students of color. Because Lewis and Clark is a predominantly white school when it comes to discussing issues of race which underlie all aspects of education and life, white people have a tendency to speak over people of color. 

Thus the importance of Race Monologues is truly unmatched. For once, people of color at Lewis and Clark had an open space to speak and share about their experiences. White people were forced to be quiet and listen. And I hope that those who attended listened, gained some perspective and going forward will do more listening. People of color consistently face challenges, and these challenges arise from existing in a society where our voices have been and continue to be oppressed, silenced, and talked over. At Lewis and Clark, I find there are a lot of white people who speak a lot about race but ultimately do not listen to people who are impacted the most by issues of race. 

The Ray Warren Symposium opened wounds within me, and left me with a lot to process and I hope that others were impacted similarly. I hope that white people were forced to feel uncomfortable, and forced to have an internal dialogue with issues they are usually able to ignore due to their own white privilege.