With racial tension high in the United States, and the need for equity growing ever stronger, students and faculty at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School participated in a 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge virtually in March and April.
The challenge, created by diversity expert Eddie Moore Jr., focuses on the Black American experience and is "designed to advance deeper understandings of the intersections of race, power, privilege, and oppression, and guide participants in becoming more aware and engaged regarding racial equity."
“Wherever one might be in their diversity, equity and inclusion journey, there is always a new perspective to learn,” said Jina Hwang, JD ’05, an adjunct professor and attorney for a federal agency who proposed the challenge to the school after experiencing it herself.
The challenge consists of 21 exercises, roughly 15 to 30 minutes long each, over 21 consecutive days. The exercises include articles, videos, podcasts, music, poetry, and other media that expose participants to perspectives on Black history, identity, culture, and racism. About 30 students and faculty attended.
“The readings take a few minutes per day, but the awareness you get stays with you perhaps forever,” said Marissa Fariña-Morse, a juris master’s student at Scalia Law.
In addition to the personal growth that comes from empathy and learning about diverse experiences, Fariña-Morse said the challenge had professional implications.
“As a mental health professional working in the criminal justice system, racism has a large impact on many of those I serve,” she said. “Providing effective mental health services can only be done by better understanding the past of this country by becoming exposed to perspectives of Black history.”
“One of the most interesting things to me was learning how to be an ally and how to respond to micro-aggressions,” said Senior Associate Dean Alison Price. “I feel more comfortable speaking up when I witness a micro-aggression or talking with a colleague or student who has been the subject of a micro-aggression.”
Price said other exercises that resonated with her included an article on how to not accidentally raise a racist, a poem that painted a vibrant picture of the African American experience, and readings on what it is like to be Black and trying to get a mortgage, or living through homelessness.
Mason launched the challenge with a virtual screening of “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality,” which follows the attorney’s struggle for racial justice with wrongfully convicted inmates on death row. Hwang facilitated virtual discussion groups for participants to share and expand upon their learnings and experiences.
“My hope is that people have a desire to learn more, and more importantly, to share that information and experience with others,” said Hwang, adding that one student brought his 14-year-old daughter to join the discussions, and others forwarded the challenge to colleagues.
The challenge speaks to Mason’s values, which view diversity as a strength.
“[Mason and Scalia Law] are part of this global community, and it’s time for us to think about how we can do better together,” Price said.
It’s about providing renewed perspective.
“I’ll never know through my own experiences what it’s like to be Black in America, and the vulnerability that poses,” Hwang said. “But I can empathize and educate myself on the circumstances to be a better ally.”
Price said she hopes the school will repeat the challenge next year, as it’s a valuable opportunity for learning, self-reflection, and action.
“I may think I’m not racist,” she said. “This helps you realize we can all do better.”