Brandeis University awarded Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, an author and academic on racial identity, The Joseph B. and Tony Gittler Prize Wednesday, Oct. 3. The award comes with a $25,000 cash prize and a medal. After President Ron Liebowitz awarded Tatum the Gittler Prize medal, she gave a talk on how to close the empathy gap between racial groups and how to encourage interracial interaction to the students, faculty and staff in the packed Sherman Function Hall.
Tatum’s speech focused on how, despite an increasingly multicultural world, segregation between white people and minority groups remains a problem in social circles and in the education system, which contributes to a lack of empathy.
“Separate remains unequal,” Tatum said. “Schools with concentrated property and racial segregation are still likely to have less experienced teachers, high levels of teacher turnover, inadequate facilities and fewer classroom resources.”
She cited research describing how the social networks of white people tend to not be diverse, causing them to lack an understanding of the struggles people of color face.
Tatum also cited the 2016 presidential election as evidence for an increase in polarization along racial and political lines, where voters of color and black voters in particular overwhelmingly favored the Democratic candidate while white voters preferred the Republican candidate.
Tatum suggested that structured dialogue can be used to close “the empathy gap.” She focused on exposing the past and present instances of institutional racism, creating opportunities for individuals to tell their own stories while others have a commitment to listen and take action with white people and people of color working together to create social change.
Tatum emphasized how intergroup interactions through community projects and intergroup dialogue can create immediate results in decreasing prejudice. She cited a University of Michigan program as an example, which offered three credit courses in intergroup dialogues where students of two or more social identity groups that have been historically in conflict have an opportunity to converse with each other.
Tatum said that the program was very successful. “Both white students and students of color demonstrate attitudinal and behavioral changes including increased self-awareness about issues of color and privilege, greater awareness of the institutionalization of race and racism in the United States, better cross-racial interaction, less fear of race-related conflict and greater participation in social change action during and after college.”
After giving her talk, Tatum took questions from Assistant Professor Derron Wallace (AAAS, ED, SOC) and audience members. Students and faculty in the audience asked about how best to facilitate dialogues between students who may be reluctant to participate. Tatum said that the best way to encourage participation and actual change is to create a long-lasting course or program rather than brief intergroup dialogue sessions.
The Gittler Prize was created by Professor Joseph B. Gittler to “recognize outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations,” according to the Brandeis University website.
Wallace introduced Tatum by giving a background on her history. Tatum is the author of three books, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race,” “Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community” and “Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation.” Tatum was awarded the 2013 Academic Leadership Award by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and is a graduate of Spelman College, a historically black college in Georgia.