Southwest Tennessee Community College

For Immediate Release

Date: April 17, 2009

For More Information: Brenda J. Rayner, (901) 333-4247


Southwest Hosts "Common Ground" Race Relations Sessions

Southwest was one of five sites from which more than 200 Mid-southerners recently wrapped up weekly sessions on race relations. Differing in ages, religions and backgrounds, these individuals were a part of Common Ground, a local initiative designed to bring small groups of people together to discuss the sensitive issues of race in a safe environment.

"Common Ground is a challenging interactive and interpersonal experience that provides a safe place for participants of a myriad of cultures and backgrounds to dialog on the difficult issues around racism, power and privilege. It provides a vehicle for healing and positive change," explained Carolyn Head, executive director of Library Services for Southwest and facilitator/trainer for Common Ground.

Southwest became a host for Common Ground in February of 2009. Approximately 60 participants met for six two-hour weekly sessions on the Union Avenue Campus. Facilitators divided this diverse group of blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and more into sub-groups of 10 to review the curriculum. Among the many topics covered were: Understanding Words Such as (Racism, Institutional Racism, Discrimination, Stereotyping, and Prejudice); How Media Influences Racism; and Examining Inequities in Our Country and Community.

Asked how individuals communicated with those they didn't know or those outside of their own ethnic, age or gender group, Head responded, "Participants initially align themselves with people they know who are more like themselves. However, it is the role of the facilitator to [skillfully] guide them past their comfort zone and challenge them to reach out to and actively engage with those most unlike them. The goal was to learn from and explore other cultures, and to develop more empathy and compassion in this manner."

Though the details of the topics are private and not discussed outside of the group sessions, Shannon Little, assistant professor and coordinator of Service Learning and Civic Engagement for Southwest reported, "People shared their own experiences and were able to hear about race from others' perspectives." In regard to attainable outcomes Little said, "People do experience all sorts of emotion, but the most repeated reaction to the program that I have heard is that you emerge realizing we all have much more in common than was before realized."

Some group members articulated changes in their attitude and mindsets after having been involved in the sessions. Tinisia Elizabeth Branch, a Southwest student, stated, "During my last session of Common Ground, I decided that life was too short to have a mind filled with seeds that grow ignorance and intolerance. Now I don't assume that a person is or isn't something based on the color of their skin. All I know is that they are human beings."

The six-week Common Ground sessions ended with each group creating an action plan. The Southwest Gill Center will be a host site for Common Ground this coming fall.

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Cutline: Groups engage after the final Common Ground session hosted on the Southwest Union Avenue Campus.