Authors and activists Dina Gilio-Whitaker and Robert W. Lee

2nd annual Social Cohesion Dialogue takes deep dive into America’s complex histories

By

Maureen Roen

What is the nature of social justice? How can each of us take action in a way that is responsible to the whole community? What does it mean to be on lands that have been defined by profound and divergent histories?

These are a few of the questions that have risen to the top in the 10 facilitated ASU and community discussion groups in the weeks leading up to this year’s ASU Social Cohesion Dialogue, to be held Thursday, Nov. 14 at the Arizona State University Tempe campus.

The event features acclaimed activists Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes), indigenous educator and author of the groundbreaking work on the ecocide against Native peoples, "As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock”; and Rev. Robert W. Lee, collateral descendant of the Confederate general whose name he shares, and author of the memoir, "A Sin By Any Other Name: Reckoning with Racism and the Heritage of the South."

Selected for their ability to dialogue with diverse participants on critical contemporary and historical issues and challenging topics of racism, privilege, resistance and justice, the authors will first engage in a conversation with Lois Brown, ASU Foundation Professor of English and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, and then in an open Q&A with audience members.

For the 200-some people who participated in the pre-event book discussion groups led by ASU faculty and community leaders, that conversation is already well underway.

"Our authors are keen to talk with each other and with members of our ASU and Arizona communities," Brown noted. "These books have already prompted powerful changes in our ASU and Arizona readers. Some have found the details about American environmental history devastating and so many in our book groups have revealed the powerful ways in which both books are calling them to consider more bravely than ever the difficult truths about entrenched and pervasive histories of racism and division."

With many participants expected to attend Thursday’s event, the inquiry and reflection should be richer than what can usually be accomplished in a two-hour public dialogue, she added, though one need not have read the books in advance to attend.  

Book groups have been a defining feature of the Social Cohesion Dialogue program since its inception in February 2019. Created by Stanlie James, vice provost for Community Engagement and Inclusion, as part of ASU's Campaign 2020, the Social Cohesion Dialogue is committed to engaging audiences in meaningful and inspiring conversation with each other. This year, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy added three book group discussion sessions in the Phoenix community. Held in South Phoenix at Azukar Coffee, in downtown Phoenix at the Phoenix Youth Hostel and Cultural Center and in Tempe at the public library, these sessions were well-attended and enthusiastically received.

“The books have motivated a lot of good conversation in the greater ASU community,” said Duane Roen, dean of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and ASU Polytechnic campus vice provost, who co-facilitated a book discussion at that campus with Chandra Crudup, faculty fellow in the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and associate director and lecturer in the School of Social Work.

“People are finding all sorts of touch points that resonate with them in the perspectives of two people who have quite different lived experiences," observed Roen. "Both are courageous and committed individuals, using their unique experiences to explore the concepts and responsibilities called for in true environmental and social justice.”

The Social Cohesion Dialogue is free and open to the public and a book signing with the authors will follow the conversation and Q&A. The event begins at 6 p.m. in the Carson Ballroom of Old Main, on the ASU Tempe campus. Register at Eventbrite.

The 2019 Social Cohesion Dialogue is coordinated by the College of Integrative Sciences and Art’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, in collaboration with the ASU Office of the University Provost, Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement, and American Indian Studies.