Addressing Anti-racism with Families

Following the murder of George Floyd this summer, our Division of Student Affairs was charged with adding or enhancing anti-racisism work in every department.  For some, such as the Office of Housing and Residential Education, it was not a difficult task, as the department was already doing a marvelous job of comprehensive anti-racism programming and training with Resident Assistants and the on-campus population.

But in Parent and Family Programs, the task was a bit more complicated as we didn’t have a forum to address anti-racism; or did we?  When we looked at the programming offered during our (virtual in 2020) series of Orientation events, one stood out.  We offered “Parenting During the College Years” a 3 hour program over two sessions featuring student performances of one-sided phone calls home.  The sessions (typically performed live, but this year offered virtually), invites parents and families to “listen in” on these phone calls and to imagine their response on the other side of the call.  As a follow up to the performances we provide guided discussions with a moderator and an expert panel (set up in talk-show format when performed live).  Over the years this has proven to be an effective vehicle to move families from the “nuts and bolts” of the first-year experience to more of the emotional and developmental touch points that may occur.

The five scenarios covered circumstances common to many first-year students include: 

1) Academic and Social Stress

2) Roommate Conflict

3) Depression in a Friend

4) Homesickness

5) Changing Lifestyles and Emerging Independence

After looking over our well-honed scripts, we decided that the phone call about a roommate conflict could be adapted to elicit responses and questions about anti-racism efforts on campus.  The roommate scenario always included space for families to ask questions and bring up concerns about living in a new environment with another person.  Our residential education professionals are on hand to discuss the process of roommate agreements, the role of the Resident Assistants/Resident Directors, and the adjustment most students make when living in a residential environment. 

Below is a segment of the script that brought in the concern of one student that she was being judged and perhaps ridiculed for her commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement:

(Student answering phone)

Hi Mom. (a bit dejectedly) 


Nothing’s wrong.  (Hesitantly) It’s just that Jenn’s not the roommate I thought she’d be.  

She borrows my things without asking; (pause) her friends come over and sit on my bed,(pause)  she plays her music so loud at night that I can hear it through her headphones all the way across the room(pause);  (increase in emotion) she leaves a puddle on the floor every time she showers; and she ate the cookies you sent me!




OK, there’s something else bothering me. (Pause)  She doesn’t like when I talk to my friends about Black Lives Matter. 


Well I don’t know.  I guess she seems to smirk when I mention Black Lives Matter, kind of condescending.  I’ve also heard her whispering about it to someone on the phone.  I don’t know.  It makes me feel really uncomfortable.   


No, I haven’t talked to her about it. 


No, I haven’t talked to the RA.


Well, I’m talking to you about it aren’t I? (exasperated) 


Easy for you to say, YOU don’t live with her.  I just want a new roommate!

When processing this scenario, we did not know if parents/family members would feel free to bring up issues of racial climate on campus, and were prepared to steer the conversation in that direction if they did not.  Besides the expected questions about roommate conflicts, we were pleased that parents did ask about diversity in the student body, the current and historical racial tensions in the city of Boston, and how the Black Lives Matter protests were received in the city.  As our campus literally borders the Boston Common, a site typically used for thousands of events, protest, and demonstrations each year, these questions were not rhetorical.  We also spent some time discussing micro-aggressions, our Intercultural Student Life office, and student groups. 

We were satisfied that the program was able to get parents and family members talking about a difficult subject in a way that was easily accessible to all participants.  

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