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Talking Over the Racial Divide

On seven Tuesdays this spring, The Chronicle watched as 14 students met in a course dedicated to discussing race, a perennial, at times explosive issue on campuses and across the country. Maryland offers the course as part of an effort to make students more proficient with difference — to help them have thorny conversations on uncomfortable topics, see the value of other people’s experiences, and gain some perspective on their own. At least, that’s the hope. But how potent a tool can talk be?

Some students walked into the classroom here a long way off from racial consciousness. Most had enrolled simply to fill out their course load or check off a diversity requirement. A few had grown up in segregated neighborhoods and schools. But here was a rare opportunity to participate in a dialogue with peers from diverse backgrounds, facilitated by two instructors, Benjamin L. Parks, a white man, and Erica C. Smith, a black woman. The trajectory toward understanding would prove messy, halting, but — maybe, ultimately — revealing.