Story by Emily Sadecki
Photo by Austin Cannon
“Race is a social construct.”
“To understand, you have to listen.”
“It’s too complex for six words.”
Campus is sprinkled with a series of hexagonal shapes sporting short but impactful phrases from Drake University students on their perception of the word ‘race’.
They are the product of a project created by Michele Norris, an NPR host and special correspondent.
“The Race Card Project” works to spark conversation about race in America.
On Wednesday in Sheslow Auditorium, she shared with Drake students, faculty and staff as well as members of the community the vision of her project.
She encouraged the audience to “lean in and do more.”
She recalled being the go-to journalist for any stories that concerned race and discussed her frustration at delegation.
Ironically, after trying to get away from being identified because of her race, she started to uncover the stories of her own family and decided to write a book, “The Grace of Silence: A Family Memoir,” which led her to further investigate what she calls “the difficult history around race.”
“I found the ‘I’ in history,” Norris said.
She handed out postcards as she spoke with people about her book. The card instructed people to write six words expressing their definition of race.
She now has archived over 35,000 of these cards and continues to get submissions via postcard, social media and her website. They have gone from being anonymous to people disclosing names and stories along with them.
“It’s important to talk about because race is still something people struggle to have conversations about today,” said Sam Scheel, a sophomore who attended the speech. “The more we talk about it, the more open to ideas we can be.”
Scheel said she saw the speech as more of a conversation than simply telling listeners what to think.
The event was sponsored by the Slay Fund for Social Justice and the Drake University School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the E.T. Meredith Center for Magazine Studies.
The Working Group for the Infusion of Global and Cultural Understanding also played a role in organizing Michele Norris’s trip to campus. The group works to be a catalyst for change on the Drake campus and promotes the celebration of people from all different backgrounds and cultures.
Melissa Sturm-Smith, the associate provost for academic excellence and student success and a member of the Working Group, led the effort to bring Michele Norris to campus. The student associates worked to bring Norris’ message to campus by speaking to student groups, advertising through social media and encouraging peers to attend.
“The issue of race isn’t easy to talk about, especially given the history of the United States. Race drastically influences how our society and how our daily lives operate. Saying, ‘Race isn’t important’ or, ‘Race isn’t a factor,’ ignores a complex issue that is well worth addressing,” said Working Group Student Associate and junior McKenzie Leier.
“As a group, we feel that race is not talked about enough on our campus, in our classroom and among students, faculty and staff. In bringing Michele to campus, we wanted to open up conversations that may not have been happening before,” Leier said.
Michele Norris said the most important thing we can do is listen.
“Listening is a muscle,” Norris said.