For the last seven months, two groups of Winona State University community members from across campus and job levels have met together every other week to have in-depth conversations about racism and how it plays out structurally on a national, state, and local level.

After many heartfelt conversations and difficult topics, the first year of the Race Matters Study Group (RMSG) conversations is wrapping up.

On Tuesday at 1 p.m., the groups will virtually talk about their experience over the past academic year as participants in the group and will share their experiences with the RMSG’s, as others will share what they are committed to doing to make the campus more equitable and inclusive.

“An important component to Race Matters is building familiarity and comfortability in talking about race and confronting inequities,” Tyler Treptow-Bowman said, from the Office of Inclusive Excellence and as one of the staff members that helped support the study group. These conversations will continue and the more people we have involved in these conversations and talking openly and honestly about systemic racism, the more effectively our entire community can move forward.” 

The two groups, which were facilitated by WSU Associate Vice President of Equity and Inclusive Excellence Jonathan Locust, were formed after listening sessions last summer in response to George Floyd’s murder. The groups talked in depth about articles, videos, and content related to racism that was gathered by the Equity and Inclusive Excellence Office with help from WSU Director Eri Fujieda from the Institutional Planning, Assessment and Research.

Even with assigned reading ahead of time and a committed hour every other week, the groups were highly sought after to be involved in. 

More than 40 people signed up for the opportunity, but to stay focused and impactful, only 22 WSU members were selected. 

The groups talked about systemic racism and how it’s able to continue, about terminology, as well as how Black and Hispanic/Latino populations have been displaced by wealthy white populations moving into or away from certain areas (gentrification), among other topics. 

“We will not rest until Winona State University, and the communities of Winona and Rochester are truly equitable and inclusive.”

Jonathan Locust

WSU Associate Vice President of Equity and Inclusive Excellence

Locust, who had no problem sharing his own experiences as a person of color, said discussions centered around individual experiences related to the content they’re reading. For example, members who grew up in certain areas struggled to understand how over-policing can happen or how living environments can be so vastly different based on neighborhoods.  

“The longer we spend with each other, the more we can form relationships and trust each other,” Locust said. “Many of us went into the groups as colleagues, but left as friends.” 

Starting next Fall Semester, a new Race Matters Study Group will be offered, Treptow-Bowman said. There’s also plans in the works to have summer informational conversations as well.   

“We will not rest until Winona State University, and the communities of Winona and Rochester are truly equitable and inclusive,” WSU Associate Vice President of Equity and Inclusive Excellence Jonathan Locust said.

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Tesla Mitchell

Named after the 80's rock band, Tesla Mitchell has a decade of experience covering local news and features as a journalist in Winona. A Saint Mary's University alumna, Tesla graduated with a bachelor's degree in Journalism with an emphasis in political science and entrepreneurship. During her free time, Tesla enjoys organizing block parties, being a super mom and an avid heavy weightlifter.