George Mason University’s Honors College has expanded an initiative launched last year to help cultivate an anti-racist community through discussion groups. The program, called “Honoring Our Community,” provides opportunities for students to have honest conversations about racial and social justice with the goal of cultivating an anti-racist culture and tighter sense of community.
“This program is important because, as a society, we desperately need more people who understand how to engage with others who don’t see the world as they do,” said Zofia Burr, dean of the Honors College and associate professor of English.
The initiative started last year, with about 40 participants from the Honors College that met once a month. This year, the program has expanded with an estimated 100 Honors College participants, all of whom will be divided into small groups of about four students. Each group will meet biweekly and have several facilitators trained to encourage student dialogue."
“Because the program is designed to be for a year, students, with the help of facilitators, have time to develop trust with each other.”
Galilea M Sejas-Machado, a junior majoring in criminology, law and society, said last year was a great experience because of how accepting her group was.
“That helped me be more vulnerable when talking about racism and oppression,” she said.
Johan Jeson, a sophomore who also participated last year, said that the program helped students learn to look within themselves.
“We thought about how we can activate change and promote a safe space for students at Mason,” said Jeson, an information technology major.
This year, facilitators include Honors College leadership, students who went through the program last year and graduate students from the College of Education and Human Development’s Diversity Research and Action Consortium.
Sam Steen, associate professor and co-academic program coordinator for Mason’s Counseling Program and director of the Diversity Research and Action Consortium, got involved last year, as he reflected on how the consortium could contribute. Last year, CEHD graduate students training to be therapists volunteered to co-facilitate groups. This year, through funding, facilitators are getting stipends.
Steen said the initiative is in its pilot stage and that they are creating a loose curriculum to help guide the sessions.
“It’s a more robust initiative this year, but we’re not finished,” said Steen. “We’re still developing it, flying the plane while building it. We’ll keep growing the initiative because it offers an important opportunity for racial healing that can happen in group spaces.”
Lauren Kane, a master’s student in Mason’s Counseling Program, helped facilitate a small group last year and signed up again this year.
“I had a really positive experience last year,” Kane said. “I was able to help students with important conversations about anti-racism and white privilege. These groups give opportunities for people to hear different perspectives on these issues which doesn’t always happen in day-to-day life.”