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February 23, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Racism and prejudice, on both the personal and systemic level, are difficult issues for many people to address in their own lives. But 10 Siena Heights University students – five men and five women, some African-American and some Caucasian – gave fellow students, faculty, and administrators, and Adrian Dominican Sisters, an enjoyable way to explore the issue.
In the presentation, “Culture Shock,” hosted at Siena Heights’ Rueckert Hall January 31, the student volunteers gave their appreciative and engaged audience an honest look at how they view others. The students – hypnotized by Dimondale, Michigan, expert Chuck King – acted out their unconscious views of other races, genders, and sexual orientation, and of those with physical disabilities.
The program was sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters; the Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity at Siena Heights, whose goal is to eliminate prejudice in daily life; and the University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, directed by Sharese Mathis.
Culture Shock has been presented since 2006 in almost 40 states, in large and small institutions. The program was started by students who moved from Detroit to Grand Valley State University where they dealt with their own “culture shock” in the predominantly white culture of the area.
The humorous evening revealed that the students, for the most part, felt accepted at Siena Heights. But it also helped members of both the Siena Heights and the Adrian Dominican campuses to explore their personal challenges in a diverse world.
The day after the event, students and Sisters gathered on two separate occasions to discuss what they had learned from Culture Shock.
“Experience is one thing, but reflecting on the experience and sharing it really helps us to grow,” said Sister Mary Priniski, OP, one of the organizers of the January 31 program.
Sister Marilyn Barnett, OP, said this emphasis on exploring racism and diversity began years ago when a group of Sisters discussed the topic during a Chapter meeting. Since then, diversity and racism became an initiative of the Adrian Crossroads Chapter, based in Adrian, Michigan. The issue also fits well with the Enactments approved by delegates to the 2016 General Chapter of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Hopes are for the discussions between students and Sisters to continue. Sister Marilyn noted that the issue of racism can be explored and discussed in a variety of ways by Sisters and concerned citizens throughout the country, and that it’s important to keep the discussion going in any way possible.
“Systemic racism – how do we get at that?” Sister Marilyn said. “Put me in a group of people, and if I’m willing to admit to it and speak about it, then that’s one way that we can begin to wear it down.”
Feature photo: Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, (second from right) and Annette Sinagra, OP, take part in a discussion with Siena Heights University students the day after the “Culture Shock” presentation.