October 06, 2008 | Myrna Anderson

“The goal of Unlearn Week is to start a campus-wide, yearlong dialogue about racism,” said Rhodes, Calvin’s assistant dean of multicultural student development.

Jacque Rhodes hopes that the 7th- annual Unlearn Week, six days of speakers, drama and other events centered on the topic of anti-racism, will be a great conversation starter: “The goal of Unlearn Week is to start a campus-wide, yearlong dialogue about racism,” said Rhodes, Calvin’s assistant dean of multicultural student development.

Yearlong dialogue

“It’s important for Christians at this age to understand the pervasive nature of sin and to recognize racism for the sin that it is and to answer God’s mandate to stand against sin and all of its effects,” she said.

Unlearn Week kicked off with a sermon on racism and the body of Christ by Rev. Angela Taylor-Perry, the first African-American woman to graduate from Calvin Theological Seminary, at the Sunday, Oct. 5 Living Our Faith Together (LOFT) service.  “Any structure that you look at, or any institution, you can see how racism affected it—or infected it. And that includes the church,” said Rhodes of the message.

Board games and strong messages

On Monday, Oct. 6 Calvin student leaders will play “The Game of Oppression,” an anti-racism themed, consciousness-raising board game, at 3:30 p.m. in the Commons Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m., Monday, the Unlearn events will continue with a session in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall titled “For White Men Only,” an event whose name reflects the guest list. “In my experience, white men are a population that benefits from a more targeted conversation about race,” Rhodes explained. “I can’t tell you how many women and people of color say they wish they could be a fly on the wall and listen.” Also Monday, there will also be a showing of the CNN documentary “Black in America” in the new van Reken wing of the Kalsbeek-Huizenga residence hall.

At 10 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 7 Rhodes will share “What I’ve Learned from Unlearn Week” in the Calvin Chapel. At 3:30 p.m. that day, the Commons Lecture Hall will be the scene of the first of three sessions titled “This is My Story”—featuring Calvin students sharing their experience with racism from several angles; the first focuses on students whose families have immigrated to the U.S. The final Tuesday event is readers’ theatre titled “Words Hurt” in the basement of Noordeweier-VanderWerp residence hall.

Racism and environment

Wednesday, Oct. 8, spotlights students who are “White, but Not White Enough,” a session hosted by Calvin’s residence hall staff about white students coming from diverse backgrounds who have a hard time fitting in at Calvin or in West Michigan. Also on Wednesday, Paul Haan will speak at 3:30 p.m. in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall on the impact of environmental racism. The second “This is My Story,” featuring stories from third-culture kids or “global nomads,” happens that day at 8 p.m. in the Fish House, as does the second performance of “Words Hurt” at 9 p.m. in the basement of Bolt-Heyns-Timmer residence hall.

Thursday, Oct. 9  Dr. Barbara Trepagnier, author of Silent Racism: How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide and sociology professor at Texas State University in San Marcos will speak at 7 p.m. in the Commons Lecture Hall—an event sponsored by the Calvin office of multicultural affairs. “We’re reading her book as part of faculty and staff development reading groups,” said dean for multicultural affairs Michelle Loyd-Paige. “She is really putting across that there’s no place for neutrality in these discussions. There’s really no place for people to say, ‘This doesn’t affect me’; this affects all of us.”

Thursday also features a session titled “What’s Racism Got to Do With It?” which focuses on the role of racism in access to health services in the U.S.

Korean immersion

Unlearners are also invited to attend “Little Asia and the Immersion Experience,” a Korean-themed event beginning at 3:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 10 in the Commons Lecture Hall. “They’re focusing on Korea, Korean culture and language. Little Asia is actually a kind of fair. You can walk through and try different foods,” said Rhodes of the experience, sponsored by the international student association committee (ISAC). (Other sponsors include the student activities office and the service-learning center, which will tie service-learning activities to a few of the events.) Unlearn Week will conclude with a 3:30 p.m. showing of The Visitor in the Calvin Fine Arts Center.

Rhodes is heartened about the way Unlearn Week and events like it keep the conversation on race going all year ‘round on the Calvin campus. “In the broad scheme of things, I think that the fact that Unlearn Week is part of the fabric of Calvin as an institution is a positive thing,” she said. “I was talking to a colleague today at a different Christian college campus in response to what happened at George Fox (University, where an effigy of Senator Barack Obama was recently hung from a tree.) And she said, she could not possibly say the word ‘racism’ on her campus, and she didn’t have such a program.”

Jacque Rhodes, assistant dean of MSD

Michelle Loyd-Paige, dean for multicultural affairs

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