The first cohort of the Diasporic Soul Racial Healing Experience study abroad to Senegal, Django Praxis, shared their journey to a rapt crowd of students, staff, faculty and community members last Thursday.
The cohort, composed of five students and alumni, engaged in a course, the study abroad trip and wrote a book alongside Dr. Kyra Shahid on their experiences. Their panel was followed by a silent auction to raise money for following Diasporic Soul trips.
Django Praxis included senior psychology majors Diamond Brown and Sequoia Egyptia Patterson-Johnson, as well as alumni Eseoghene Obrimah, Adrian Parker, Jr., and Taylor Zachary. On Thursday, they spoke of their experiences in Dr. Kyra Shahid’s course, their experience on the study abroad and the process of writing a book encapsulating their experiences.
The cohort was formed in spring 2017 after a racially charged winter. The Xavier community faced two race-related bias incidents during the fall semester of 2016, including a dashiki-clad skeleton hanging from a noose in a dorm window of Bishop Fenwick Hall and a Snapchat of a student wearing a charcoal face mask as blackface. In the spring semester of 2017 Dr. Charles Walker Gollar’s research into the history of Xavier confirmed that the founder, Bishop Edward Fenwick, had owned slaves.
At the request of Xavier president Father Graham, the Working Group was formed to investigate how the university as a Jesuit institution could work towards racial reconciliation.
That same spring semester, Shahid, associate director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) and member of the Working Group, began to teach a course entitled “Anti-Black Racism and Epistemic Violence.” The course explored systemic oppression’s impact on a communal and even personal level while developing skills to promote social justice.
Obrimah and the other members of the cohort shared that Shahid’s course had been one of, if not the most, impactful course they had taken at Xavier for them to find their purpose.
After the trip, Shahid sought to publish the written works that the cohort used to process their experience. The book, which shares the name of Shahid’s course, is available for $17 online.
Shahid’s course is a pre-requisite for the trip and currently has seats open for the 2019 spring semester.
The audience packed into Arrupe Overlook to hear the student’s stories and theevening opened with remarks from Fr. Graham.
An invocation was next. Items were laid out on a low, altar-like table, including sand from an island on the Middle passage and a statue of a baobab tree. Ancestors and spirits were welcomed into the room.
Django Praxis’ recounting of their personal journeys took the audience from one extreme to another throughout the night.
At one moment, the room would be doubled over in laughter hearing of their hijinks in the classroom, and the next solemn faces were fixed on the young men and women as they recounted moments “crucible moments”.
Crucible moments are instances that shift one’s perspective. The panel members shared their reactions to the shooting of unarmed Black people, such as Korryn Gaines, Philando Castille, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin — the list went on.
The resulting discussion was heavy and is what sophomore Izzy Childs took away most from the evening.
“Although I will never fully understand, I thought it was really powerful the hurt that was in the atmosphere and the feelings that the students (were) revealing.”
While Childs gained a lot of perspective from the event, she recognizes that there cannot be growth without more students engaging in the conversation.
Students can become involved in the dialogue of racial reconciliation through programming at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.
By: Heather Gast | Campus News Editor