Students and faculty analyze racial tension

FMU and the African-American Faculty and Staff Coalition (AAFSC) held a joint event at noon on Oct. 9 at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) in downtown Florence to discuss the prevalence and differences of microaggressions and macroaggressions. This was the first in a series of four panels to be held at the PAC titled “Cultural Conversations.”

Kayla Duncan, the assistant director of the Counseling and Testing Center at FMU, an active member of the AAFSC and the chair of the new cultural committee within the AAFSC, is the creator of the cultural conversation.

“After being home with everything, and after the death of George Floyd, I was involved with some of the marches here in Florence because I just felt really passionately,” Duncan said. “I just felt like I really needed to be involved in something.”

Duncan, after gathering her thoughts and planning, started communicating with people within the school and the community to try and put her plans in motion.

“I reached out to the president, Linda Sullen, of the AAFSC,” Duncan said. “I said, ‘Hey, I feel passionately that Francis Marion should be involved in some of the race-relation talks here in Florence because I feel like we have a reputation of being at the forefront of some of that stuff and I don’t see any other universities taking a strong role in that yet.’”

After her talk with Sullen, Duncan and Sullen both went to FMU President Fred Carter to present their ideas. There were plans to work within the school and within the community through training, panels and outreach programs. As a whole, they just wanted to bring these crucial conversations into the community.

“I wanted to expand the conversation from a global one to a community one because that is really how change happens,” Duncan said. “This is an important way to have a conversation everyone is already having, but give people necessary, informative, positive information about how to integrate things into their daily lives they don’t have words for.”

With help from Carter, the AAFSC, various professors and the staff of the PAC, planning for the cultural conversations was put into motion.

“We all worked together to make it seamless,” Duncan said. “We also allowed it to be virtual; it was so important to us to honor people’s concerns with social distancing and the pandemic. It gave the option for people who needed to watch it online to replay it afterward.”

This first event was hosted by the recently retired chair of psychology at FMU, Will Wattles. As the recipient of the AAFSC Diversity Award in 2016 and the creator of a racial diversity course at FMU that allowed civil discourse between students of different races and educated them on racial issues, Wattles was asked to be the first keynote speaker.

“I guess somebody said, ‘Maybe we can get Will Wattles to do the first one,’” Wattles said. “I don’t actually know though, because I was up in Maine.”

Wattles took over the panel and compiled research on microaggressions and macroaggressions into a presentation.

“The main topic was microaggressions,” Wattles said. “As I was finding those examples, it helped me to realize just how omnipresent it really is.”

In his presentation, Wattles gave countless examples of microaggressions and macroaggressions in various contexts in life to show how pervasive the issue truly is. He even admitted his own lack of understanding of the issue.

“We just can’t know that,” Wattles said. “White people just don’t understand what it’s like to go through it.”

And that is the goal of the cultural conversations—to open the mind and educate people to help them better understand race relations and the issues that manifest in society.

The PAC held the second cultural conversation at noon on Nov. 6 titled “Changes in African-American race relations in Florence over-time and how to create an inclusive environment for people of color.” And the PAC will host the next two conversations in the spring of 2021. The dates and times for the next “Cultural Conversations” have already been announced on FMU’s website.