As Associate Chaplain for Christian and Interfaith Life at Carleton College, Rev. Hannah Campbell Gustafson was compelled to host conversations about racial justice as students returned to campus this fall. She turned to Rev. Wendy Vander Hart, a trained racial justice facilitator, at the nearby Northfield First United Church of Christ. Vander Hart asked church member Kathy Sandberg to help facilitate and, together, the trio launched weekly conversations, using the UCC’s curriculum on white privilege.
The discussions attracted intergenerational participation, something Campbell Gustafson believes was especially beneficial. “There is a richness that comes from different perspectives in intergenerational conversations,” she says. “These conversations were a great gift for all ages and, honestly, for the facilitators.”
The weekly discussions were open to all, but Campbell Gustafson said they were meant for white people. “This is the work white people need to do. It isn’t a therapy group. It’s a group where we support one another, yes, but it’s really about challenging ourselves and figuring out how to take action. I was impressed at how open people were and how willing they were to be both vulnerable and challenged.”
The intergenerational participation was enlightening in many ways, she says. “A student brought up the topic of how to handle inherited wealth and an older person shared how she and her husband had actually changed their will to address reparations. Another person talked about a conversation from many years ago where she felt at a loss for words and a student shared a similar experience.”
Campbell Gustafson said several participants began the discussions believing that, because they came from a lower socio-economic background, they didn’t have white privilege; by the end of the series, they had a much different understanding. “The curriculum really takes people on a journey. I think all of the participants understood at the end of the series, these conversations are the beginning of that journey.”
Based on the success of the fall series, Vander Hart and Campbell Gustafson plan to repeat what they are now calling “Brave Conversations,” beginning January 21. A Carleton student, Astrid Steiner-Manning, will join as co-facilitator to continue the intergenerational focus.
Campbell Gustafson thinks it is important that students see people from religious communities having these bold conversations. “Many young people don’t necessarily have a great impression of religion,” she says. “I feel like this model can show students that people of faith and people of all ages are deeply concerned about racial justice.”