Wellesley Community Members Take “21 Days Against Racism” Challenge
Inspired by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra’s “21-Day Meditation Experience” and the idea that doing something for 21 days will create a habit, the Office of Intercultural Education launched the the “21 Days Against Racism” challenge on September 7 to encourage the Wellesley community to pursue anti-racist work that will last beyond the scope of the project.
The challenge involved committing to a series of activities and events in September and early October—including Zoom discussions, readings, and other online resources— to learn how racism is perpetuated in society and how to fight it. Ninety-three faculty members and 232 students participated.
“The motivation behind the challenge was to provide students and staff with the tools to learn and engage in the fight against racism in their various spheres of influence,” said Inés Maturana Sendoya, associate dean of students for inclusion and engagement, who worked to put together this project.
Participants in each group received a daily email featuring a new topic, accompanied by a variety of print and online resources designed to take no longer than 15 minutes to read. Topics ranged from intersectionality to racial bias to cultural appropriation. They then had 24 hours to respond to reflection questions and post one takeaway from the day, and they were invited to participate in two to three Zoom conversations to discuss the material further. (Wellesley’s student program ended on October 5, and the program for faculty and staff ends on October 19.)
Karen Alvarez Julian ’21 said the challenge provided the perfect opportunity for her to learn about, discuss, and question some core issues around race, racism, and more. “I came to Wellesley not even knowing that I’m a Black student,” she said. “I’m from the Dominican Republic, and I was just like, I’m Hispanic. That was it. And coming to Wellesley, I’m like, oh, I have all these layers, I’m Black. What does Black even mean? I am Afro-descendent—why is that different from being Black?” She said the challenge was “the perfect space for me to learn without even going to a space.”
“The motivation behind the challenge was to provide students and staff with the tools to learn and engage in the fight against racism in their various spheres of influence.”Inés Maturana Sendoya, associate dean of students for inclusion and engagement
“I liked the online bulletin board aspect of it the most,” says Elizabeth Borecki ’21, a Paulson Initiative intern who participated in the challenge. “The anonymity and asynchronous aspects of sharing your own thoughts and reading others’ thoughts has allowed some students to participate when otherwise they may have not.”
The program also included a virtual presentation on September 15 by keynote speaker Crystal Fleming ’04, professor of sociology and Africana studies at Stony Brook University, who discussed her critically acclaimed 2018 book How to Be Less Stupid About Race and its continued relevance today.
Going through the program, Julian said there were moments where she felt that she understood the concept of race, but after listening to Fleming speak, she questioned whether she really did. “I’m reading her book because I’m like, do I really understand? From what point of view am I understanding race?” she asked.
Sendoya will ask the participants to complete assessment forms to help her gauge how to move forward with the initiative. “I did not know what to expect when I had this idea, and I have been pleased with the response and interest,” she said.
Borecki said she saw the program “as one step or one task in an ongoing pursuit and mission. Educating myself, learning more, speaking up, and taking action is something that should be ongoing and I’m not sure can be completed in my lifetime alone.”