It is rare to see a forum on race and diversity as open and honest as the one that took place recently on the ship. A group of 30-40 students, staff and Life-Long Learners were led by Professor Nancy Hurrelbrinck in what was scheduled to be a one-hour discussion.
Professor Hurrelbrinck said that instead of debating about whether or not racism still exists or another equally complicated and volatile subject, she just wanted to provide a safe space for students to ask questions and learn more about people with backgrounds different from their own. The group tackled a number of difficult subjects, including why diversity is important, why cultural differences exist and how they enrich society and why it is necessary for people to check the assumptions they make about others based on their race, religion, gender and/or sexual orientation. Many of the students shared personal experiences from home and SAS. Many talked about how being in a diverse community like SAS has helped make them more open to different perspectives, and visiting so many countries has made them more aware of the world outside of their home country.
The discussion on how the voyage has affected many of the students' outlook on diversity was, perhaps, one of the most interesting subjects that the group pursued. Some students opened up about how it felt to be in the minority in most of the countries the ship visited. They also talked about what it was like trying to navigate a country in which they did not speak the native language. Some of their experiences were frustrating and difficult, but they learned from these as much as the ones that filled them with awe or warmed their hearts.
The dialogue was carried with a level of respect befitting the intellectual environment that has been carefully cultivated on board. People managed their disagreements with maturity, and by the end of the discussion no one seemed afraid to offer their opinion or ask a question.
The dialogue was so productive, it had to be moved to an empty classroom after the 60 minutes set aside for Explorer Seminars elapsed. The new room, an offshoot from the smaller dining room on the ship's sixth deck, had standing room only as the conversation continued for an additional hour. What was most encouraging to the faculty and staff present was that when the forum was officially dismissed, many of the students continued their discussions in smaller, informal groups.
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