March 19, 2019
Group of staff and faculty discusses race & racism and other social topics

On August 30, 2017, a group of Information Services (IS) staff got together to discuss the Unite the Right rally that had taken place in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12. Several members of the IS staff had been having hallway and office discussions about the rally and the tragic events surrounding the event. Keith W. “Mac” McIntosh, Vice President for Information Services and CIO, convened weekly “Race and Racism” discussions, modeled after similar discussions he had participated in at Ithaca College in 2015.

Intersections Rules of EngagementIn the first meeting, the group developed ground rules for how they would communicate with each other with respect.

The group decided to limit attendance to Information Services staff only, for reasons of privacy, trust, and familiarity. Attendance has always been optional, but a core group of about a dozen participants gathers weekly in the Whitehurst Living Room on Wednesdays from noon - 1:00 PM.

Through December 2017, McIntosh facilitated the weekly topical conversations. One conversation focused on the essay “Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable” by Dr. Belisa Gonzales. The goals of the group were to introduce topics of common interest and build awareness about differences, to understand their own biases, and to build confidence and capability to engage others in an inclusive and respectful way.

Beginning in January 2018, the group selected topics for each week, with different participants leading the conversations. Guest speakers were invited to talk to the group, including Dr. Lauranette Lee, Dr. Thad Williamson, Dr. Ed Ayers, and Dr. Glynn Hughes.

The group took time to read and discuss books. The first book, Overcoming Bias, by Tiffany Jana was followed by a visit by Ms. Jana to the group. In the fall of 2018, the group read Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. Dr. Tatum was one of this year’s Sharp Series speakers, and she agreed to meet with the group to discuss her book. The group watched the movie “Crash” and spent a couple of weeks discussing it.

Throughout the book discussion lunches, other topics were planned for discussion. These included topics like privilege, welfare culture and entitlements, microagressions, #MeToo, and more.

In the fall, the group opened participation to other members of the University community. The group now welcomes faculty, staff, and students to the weekly meetings on Wednesdays at noon. As the calendar year came to an end, the group discussed rebranding the “Race and Racism Group” into a larger discussion of the other -isms. The group is now called Intersections.

When asked why they participate in the ongoing discussions, responses were direct. “I participate in this group for a number of reasons, but most importantly to learn my own implicit biases and be a better person.  It’s not always easy for me to go to these sessions as the topics sometimes force me to confront things with myself.  Also, I use some of our discussions to help improve my relationships with others and teach my son the importance of open and honest relationships and interactions with others,” said Bill Galaspie, Business Intelligence Specialist.

Andrea Zinski, Senior Programmer Analyst, said, “I’m learning more about myself and understanding my own white privilege and biases through these group discussions, books and movies.  The year 2016 was a pivotal year for how my lens of the world was changed.  Charlottesville and politics opened my eyes to issues that I thought were things of the past and initially motivated me to come to these group conversations on racism.  We’ve since covered a whole myriad of engaging and thought-provoking topics and current events provide even more subject matter to discuss…I feel we have the same goal, we all want to be better people and change the world – starting with ourselves.”

In February, members of the group spoke at a lunch sponsored by the President’s Advisory Committee for Making Excellence Inclusive and Information Services. The goal of the lunch was to share their experiences and to encourage the formation of other similar groups on campus, for those who can’t attend Wednesdays at noon.

The group has picked a new book for the new year, Verna A. Myers’ What If I Say the Wrong Thing? 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People. And the group continues to discuss topics of common interest. Upcoming conversations include marketing blunders and southern border immigration.

Intersections members don’t make it to every lunch meeting: they come as they can and as the topics interest them. You are welcome to join the conversations. Bring your lunch to the Whitehurst Living Room on Wednesdays at noon. If you have questions, contact