This past summer, the John H. Pace, Jr. ’39 Center for Civic Engagement launched the Princeton RISE (Recognizing Inequities and Standing for Equality) initiative, in which Princeton University students all over the country worked on virtual internships in racial justice projects. This opportunity proved to be a great chance for students to exercise their empathy muscles by engaging with articles, media, and text. Afterwards, when RISE fellows expressed continued interest, the Pace Center decided this learning experience should not end.
Thus, the Princeton RISE Media & Dialogue Club was born. Facilitated by Geralyn Williams, a program coordinator at the Pace Center, and Charlotte Collins, an associate director for the Pace Center, this week-long Wintersession book club explored racial justice and social equity in an intensive community experience. Among the readings and videos that participants engaged with were "Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler, a widely acclaimed, Black speculative fiction author, as well as "Source of Self Regard," a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison.
Collins and Williams, both avid readers, believe that, on a campus that can appear as STEM- and finance-orientated as Princeton, writings are often an overlooked space in which a person can learn about taking action around social inequities. Not only does fiction not shy away from the realities of racism and oppression, but it also invites people into the story. Thus, fiction is a way to engage with social inequities, even though many people may not have considered it as such, because ongoing engagement can take a variety of different forms. “It might be a book, and that’s okay,” Collins affirms. “It does not always have to look one particular way.”
The idea that there are different angles from which racial justice can be tackled is something that first-year student Diego Solorio learned from his experience with the RISE book club. As a prospective Astrophysics major, Solario has always been passionate about working in the STEM field, and as a Chinese-Mexican American, he is very aware of the underrepresentation of certain demographics in the STEM field.
However, through this workshop, he realized that he can contribute to changing that fact. “I plan to keep social justice dear to my heart as I go into the STEM field,” Solario declared. “I will never let go of these values, and hopefully, I will bring more people of color into the field as a science communicator.”
In engaging in critical conversations centered around these texts and discussing how to take action around inequities, Collins and Williams created a space to draw on the power of radical imagination when it comes to challenging existing structures and moving on to a future in which the world can be equitable. Examining perspectives written by prolific Black women authors resulted in the building of a community focused on what it means to be in service in a world that is aching.
As Wintersession is a time when members of the Princeton community can advance their knowledge both academically and personally, there seemed no better time than to form this club that introduced participants to a skillset that can transition to other aspects of their life and prepare them to ask the questions that most are afraid to ask. Because, ultimately, the goal of the Princeton RISE Media & Dialogue Club was to encourage people to become more comfortable with the uncomfortable.