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Week of April 8, 2013

Evocative exhibit, town hall foster conversation about race at U-M

A two-month-long campuswide project promoting a deeper, meaningful conversation about race, identity and diversity will culminate April 18 in an exhibit on the Diag and a town hall meeting at Rackham Auditorium.

Set amid one of U-M’s most popular campus gathering places and historic settings of protests and solidarity, the Diag exhibit features displays of the Race Card Project, hundreds of postcards on which students, faculty and staff have written six words to describe their views about race.

Meanwhile, award-winning journalist Michele Norris, who created the project shortly after working on her memoir exploring her family’s racial legacy, will host a 4 p.m. town hall meeting at Rackham Auditorium.

“Race is something people want to talk about, but might not know how to begin the conversation,” said Norris, who visited U-M in mid-March and circulated thousands of index-size postcards on campus. On that day, she also met with President Mary Sue Coleman and executive officers, who submitted their own six-word descriptions of race.

National Public Radio journalist and author Michele Norris, right, speaks with graduate student Jennifer Pollard about the Race Card Project during a visit to U-M on March 12. Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography.

To date, Norris has received thousands of cards from around the world, including people in Afghanistan, Great Britain, Chile, South Korea, Belgium and Abu Dhabi. She has begun cataloguing the responses, which offer a snapshot of a range of views on race, from the uplifting to the unsavory. Delivered to her by mail and online, the project offers a glimpse at how social media can inspire a worldwide discussion on a social issue common to all countries.

Norris currently is a National Public Radio guest host and special correspondent. She is a former reporter for ABC News and occasional guest on “Meet the Press” and “The Chris Matthews Show.”

“The public dialogue (about race) has been difficult,” she said. “The gulf between people on a range of issues is getting wider. People often talk past each other, rather that with each other. The six-word exercise is a way into the conversation.”

U-M is the first university to participate formally in the project. Involvement coincides with the LSA theme semester Understanding Race which examines many notions of race through exhibits, performances, lectures and symposia. More than 130 courses have been designed to explore the sociocultural implications of race.

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