Section: Arts

Renee Romano takes hands-on role for Days of Dialogue

Renee Romano takes hands-on role for Days of Dialogue

Discussions of racial inequalities and disparities have been a central feature on campus this week in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Although this week, dubbed “MLK: Days of Dialogue” by the College, officially started on Friday, Jan. 16 with Cinearts’ screening of Dear White People, another impactful event occurred on Thursday, Jan. 15 in Kenyon’s bookstore. Professor Renee Romano of Oberlin College addressed students on Thursday about her latest book, Racial Reckoning: Prosecuting America’s Civil Rights Murders. During the presentation, Romano took the audience into the heart of the court systems involved in re-opening cold cases from the Civil Rights Movement. While her book focuses on the issue of real “reckoning” and whether or not whole communities and even the United States itself can ever actually rectify the atrocities that have been committed in the name of race, one underlying strand of her book discussion recurred throughout the rest of the “MLK: Days of Dialogue” festivities: institutionalized racism.


As part of the Days of Dialogue Romano also held a discussion on the documentary series Unnatural Causes on Tuesday, Jan. 20. While this presentation did not address the issue of racially motivated violence and prejudice, it did discuss the breadth of institutionalized racism present within our country, particularly regarding the health care system in America. The documentary series in question, Unnatural Causes, focuses on the issues of racial discrimination and poverty within the healthcare system and what policies could be put into place to combat them.


On Tuesday evening a select group of students and Kenyon community members, along with President Sean Decatur and Romano, his wife, met in Leach Dining Hall to discuss the documentary in full and its implications for life on and off the Hill. The topics of discussion ranged from voting practices to proper government housing techniques.


Many present at the discussion were shocked by the statistics presented within the film, especially a study involving the positive correlation between good health and economic security as a child. According to the film, the most reliable predictor of poor health as an adult is whether or not your parents owned your home when you were a child. Professor Romano found the results of the study particularly fascinating: “Your history is coded into your body,” she said “Certain people have been given advantages that others have been denied … and that is reflected through other areas like health.”


The advantages Romano refers to include things that many do not consider signs of privilege: access to healthy food, control over your day-to-day schedule, being able to take a walk around your neighborhood. In fact, most things that we consider insignificant to our health have a much bigger impact. “We should think about health issues as being very broad,” Romano said during the discussion on Tuesday. Romano asserted that issues like the protests in Ferguson, Mo., the condition of labor unions and the ever-expanding wage gap should be considered health issues.


President Decatur spoke about his optimism for the future of health policies and our attitudes toward health as a society. Decatur spoke about the change of perception within the scientific community about high blood-pressure among African-American men. The change from looking toward genetic causes to considering environmental and societal pressures was a deeply impactful one, according to Decatur. “Academically and personally [the perception of social pressures affecting health] is a really powerful way to think about it.”


Zahida Sherman Ewoodzie, assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said the topic of health issues was seen as a fitting choice for this year’s “MLK: Days of Dialogue.” According to Ewoodzie, “We [the planning committee] wanted to give the campus a theme that they could latch onto.” The theme of health issues has proved to be a popular one with Kenyon students. The kick-off event last Friday, Dear White People, had such a large audience that a second showing is being offered later this week. In an interview with the Collegian, Ewoodzie attributed the week’s success to students’ openness to discussion. “I think Kenyon students are hungry to engage with issues of difference,” she said.


During the dinner and discussion, both Decatur and Romano communicated ways in which we, as Kenyon students, could affect health policies and the prevalence of institutionalized racism. According to Romano, one simply has to avoid “being part of the problem.”  Whether it be through community service, voting in local elections or just being kind to others, being part of the solution is something that all of us can accomplish. Decatur expressed his optimism about health policies, saying, “I don’t think we can [quickly] end racism … but we can build public housing that is mold-resistant.”



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