This past fall semester, seven Endicott College juniors in the class HTM 380, Management of Corporate Events, planned and executed three virtual events focusing on confronting racism. Overseen by Associate Professor, Linda Robson, Ph.D., the HTM 380 class partnered with Endicott College’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Task Force, as a client, and the students working as an event company. They created proposals and handled everything from program planning, marketing, design, execution and evaluation.
Racism has become a major topic of conversation and contention across the U.S. and world, and the DEI Task Force and the Corporate Events class felt that it was important to begin to have conversations and create awareness at the College. In past years, this class would create and hold events in-person, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, events have had to change course and become virtual.
The series of three events created by the School of Hospitality students was titled Tides of Racism, utilizing a water theme since the College is located on the ocean. The students felt racism is similar to water in the way that it can be dangerous and underneath the surface there are things you cannot see. The events were held using Zoom and posted to the Endicott College Facebook pages. The ultimate goal was to create events aimed at providing students with an understanding of the language of racism, learning to have an open dialogue, and using their voice.
“I believe we are all connected and our most essential work is to live cooperatively, respectfully, and appreciatively of all the gifts that life makes available. This is impossible to accomplish without confronting racism and working to combat it and establish equity and inclusion for all people. Having events at the College that keep waking us up to the presence of racism is so important so we can continuously correct and improve how we treat people and look at the policies we put in place to make sure that they are fair for all,” says Gail Cantor, Director of Spiritual Life and Co-chair of the DEI Taskforce.
The first event, Racist Riptides, was a discussion on systemic racism. The event was game based and moderated by Assistant Professor of Nursing, Amanda Shilo, Ph.D. With a goal to have an open discussion on systemic racism in a safe environment, attendees were shown five, one-minute videos on topics of systemic racism, placed in break-out rooms for discussion, and then asked questions using Kahoot!, an online trivia platform.
“We all really collaborated and worked hard together. I had to reach out and talk to people that I needed in my events, and it was hard because we needed people to share their story (for the microaggressions event). I think that scared me because I didn't know how they were going to react, and I think that it taught me a lot of interpersonal skills with people and gave me a really firm base for growing as an event planner,” says Camryn Dearden ’22.
The second event was called Floating or Drowning: A Conversation About White Privilege. It was a round-table discussion moderated by Ben Horgan, program coordinator at the Center for Academic Coaching and a member of the College’s DEI Taskforce. The event was live-streamed on the Get Involved at Endicott College Facebook page with a goal to try and normalize the ability to have open and honest conversations about white privilege.
The team of students did a lot research to make sure they weren’t being biased and had the right sources to answer questions. “I feel in the beginning it was hard to learn about because so many websites had different information and it was hard to figure out what was true and what wasn't biased. I feel like it really helped us create a voice and be passionate about our events. I focused on white privilege, for my event, and for me, I just feel like I learned a lot about it and can now use my voice,” says Molly Baulier ’22.
The third and final event was called Tip of the Iceberg: Stories of Microaggressions. Involving three alumni and a current student, the class put together an emotional video presentation narrated by Brandon Smith ’22 and Emily Grenier ’22. Participants wrote down their experiences of microaggressions and put a line through it and then explain how the microaggressions made them feel. The main messages are for people to recognize the power their words and actions hold and to use their voices to be a part of the solution.
“We weren’t trying to do what would be seen as more popular or the politically correct opinion. We wanted to make sure that we were highlighting all sides, so that we can show that we understand both. We’re not telling you—this is how you have to think about it— we’re trying to give you all of the information to then make your own opinions and then have these tough conversations with other people as well,” says Allison Milliken ‘22
All of the event plans and materials were submitted to Professor Robson before they became outward facing. Robson’s first reaction was to soften some of the language as to not offend people, but then realized it was important to share them as they were because the students had found their voice and a way to use their privilege to educate others.
“I’m very proud of what the students did. They came together and overcame any fears. I saw all of their skills work and evolve in ways that I couldn't even have imagined. The students each had their own events, but they collaborated, they cycled through each other's events and offered comments, and I just saw so much growth. The fact that we've all seen tons of virtual events that have been happening since the pandemic began, and what they did was create educational events that didn’t involve a talking head—something that people actually wanted to watch. I think that that's probably the most effective piece of what they did, whether it was live or virtual, those are skills that are going to be extremely useful for them,” says Robson.
“This class did an incredible job of taking on a difficult topic like racism and presenting ways for students and the rest of the College community to begin having conversations. It is a large part of our experiential learning model, and Hospitality is the business of delivering experiences at its core,” says Todd Comen, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Hospitality.