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Gittler Prize award-winner speaks on race demographics in education

Members of the Brandeis community and Waltham High School gathered to hear Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, this year’s recipient of the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize Award, speak about the impact of the demographic shift on education. The discussion was facilitated by Maria Madison, the associate dean for diversity and inclusion. Professor Joseph Assan (HS) also gave an introduction about improving Brandeis’ impact on diversity and inclusion.

Tatum received her doctorate from the University of Michigan in clinical psychology and focused heavily on helping to create intergroup dialogues between different communities of individuals. Along with the Gittler award, Tatum is also the recipient of numerous other prestigious awards, including a reward for extraordinary work in clinical psychology from the American Psychological Association (APA).

Tatum rose to fame with her critically acclaimed book from 1997, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.” The majority of the talk discussed the changes in our current social and political climate since the release of the book.

When introducing Tatum, Madison praised Tatum for her work in clinical psychology and her work in creating intergroup dialogues. “She has inspired us at Heller to engage in intercultural dialogues and intergroup dialogues,” Madison said in her speech. “Much of what we’re working on in contemporary society has its roots in history, its disparities and much of its explanation is in inequalities. By hosting these intergroup dialogues, we are paying respect to the historical respect of these disparities.”

There have been three major updates since the publication of the book. The first being a change in population. When the book was written, Tatum recalls that demographically, the majority of the U.S. was white; an overwhelming majority. “When I was in school in the ’50s,” Tatum said, “90 percent of the school population was white. The 10 percent encompassed everyone else.” However, now in the current school age population, more than 50 percent are students of color; a stark contrast from the past.

The political climate has also changed significantly since the release of her book. In 1997, when Bill Clinton was president, he created a president’s initiative on race. “It was important for the nation to have a conversation on race,” stated Tatum in reflection of Clinton. And thus, the initiative was launched.

Clinton realized it was a good time to start such an initiative because the U.S. was not at war with any other countries, the economy was strong and the unemployment rate was low. However, with the Monica Lewinsky scandal that ensued just a few months after the proposal, the initiative was swept under the rug.

When Barack Obama was elected as president in 2008 after the economic crash, a majority of the public believed that the need to talk about race was unnecessary because we had elected a black president, explained Tatum.

“But we’re not in a post-racial society, but there was a sense that if we could elect a black president, we don’t have to talk about it anymore. But this is not true.”

Member of Waltham High School, who were assigned to read Tatum’s book, had the opportunity to ask questions about different aspects of racial shifts in education and their effects.

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