This past spring, a group of 17 students learned to battle racism together. In several gatherings at Sims Hall, they ate, talked, shared personal stories and perspectives, and worked to break down the barriers of racial tension.

The students, from the School of Social Work, the School of Education, and the Syracuse City School District’s Corcoran and Nottingham high schools, were brought together through a University Vision Fund project called "Eracism," created by social work professor Carrie Jefferson Smith and education professor Mara Sapon-Shevin. The project is modeled after the Community-Wide Dialogue Project on Ending Racism and Healing Race Relations, a local initiative established in fall 1997 that brings together people from different backgrounds to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s differences. Eracism was designed to use this understanding to develop, implement, and evaluate an anti-racism curriculum for use in local high schools, with the students serving as teachers. "Anti-racism work is some of the most important work in the world," Smith says. "The scourge of racism continues to pervade so many areas of our lives."

Smith and Sapon-Shevin first met through the dialogue project. As trained facilitators and members of the project’s Action Committee, they began discussing ways to implement the project and weave it into their teaching and research. Bonnie White, Native American coordinator with the Syracuse City School District, helped them further develop their ideas, and became their link to the city schools. "At the high school level, there is still a tremendous amount of tension between students of different backgrounds," Smith says.

The group’s sessions were based on the dialogue program’s Community Youth Guide, and included activities aimed at building kinship among group members. One activity involved listing common stereotypes and noting similarities when stereotypes used in reference to one ethnic group were compared to those of a second group. Students kept journals and recorded their thoughts and feelings on issues of race. Their journal entries were then used to facilitate discussions.

The sessions also focused on two interrelated topics: facing racism, and being an ally to people facing racism. "We want the students to feel involved," says Sapon-Shevin. "They want to feel some sense of power over these issues."

This summer, Smith and Sapon-Shevin will work with students to develop anti-racism educational materials. Students will also be trained to lead groups and take the new curriculum into local schools. Next fall, three groups of students will teach anti-racism workshops in Syracuse public high schools, and the project will be documented and evaluated. Eventually, a teaching manual and training video will be produced. "We talk about teaching, research, service–this is a beautiful synergy of those things," says Sapon-Shevin. "The project has broad implications for both the University community and the Syracuse community."
                                                                                                                              —WENDY S. LOUGHLIN



This fall, students in two Department of Speech Communication classes will pay particularly close attention to the politicking, mudslinging, and sound bites of the elections.

In the course Political Communication, speech communication professor Amos Kiewe’s students act as political consultants by documenting the positive and negative communications of a campaign. After selecting a candidate to study, each student writes a speech for the candidate, prepares talking points on an issue such as gun control for a debate, and then writes a letter assessing the candidate’s successes and failures. "Students get to be in the shoes of the consultant," says Kiewe, assistant dean for graduate student services. "It helps them make sense of the theories and concepts they’ve studied the moment they put them into practice."

David Heineman ’01, a speech communication and history major who took the course last fall, says it helped him gain insights on New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton when he heard her speech on campus last winter. Casey Callahan ’01, a speech communication and political science major who took Kiewe’s class, studied Elizabeth Dole, then a Republican presidential candidate. Callahan learned to look at Dole more insightfully and monitor her weaknesses as a presidential candidate. "I look at politics much more critically now," says Callahan.

                                          mike prinzo photo

In Women’s Political Discourse, students study women’s governing styles. Speech communication professor Deborah Robson teaches her class that women often appeal to voters through non-confrontational campaign techniques like "listening tours." Students also are taught that real changes come during governing, not campaigning. "Campaigning is just a job application process," Robson says. "Governing is the job."

Jaclyn Fiore ’00, a broadcast journalism major who minored in speech communication, praises Robson and her political discourse class. Fiore learned that women candidates come to understand people’s day-to-day lives by sharing personal stories on such issues as day care and family leave. "I now look at gender differences between men’s and women’s speeches," she says.

Robson encourages students to apply their new knowledge to take politics a step further–by running for office. "Women begin to see the possibilities of being a politician," she says. "They learned how women can be tough enough and still be considered feminine."
                                                                                                                                            —DANIELLE K. JOHNSON

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