Howard takes on ‘delicate topic’ of race

Sheena Howard, standing in front of a theater showing her documentary, Remixing Colorblind. The film discusses issues of race and diversity on college campuses.
Sheena Howard, standing in front of a theater showing her documentary, Remixing Colorblind. The film discusses issues of race and diversity on college campuses.

By James Shepard

As the lights rose on a crowded Landmark Theater in Philadelphia on Feb. 25, Dr. Oscar Holmes IV, a Rutgers University management professor, thanked Rider’s Dr. Sheena Howard for creating Remixing Colorblind.

“Race is a really, really delicate topic to talk about,” Holmes said. “And it’s a very complicated topic to talk about and to do it within 30 minutes. At such a high level, it’s unbelievable.”

To applause, Howard took her place beside Holmes, ushering in a 20-minute Q&A session that followed the first public screening of her first documentary.

“Just let it be known that this documentary was completely edited by me and my girlfriend,” Howard said to more applause. “We literally taught ourselves Final Cut Pro X over the last six months.”

The film discusses important topics of race and the perceptions of diversity within university settings. Interviewees are from Drexel, Howard Lehigh and Rider universities, as well as West Philadelphia Catholic High School. They expressed hopes, disappointments and anxieties. One of their more important questions focused on ways to increase the diversity of college professors.

Howard expressed satisfaction with the diversity of the faculty in her own department, the Department of Communication and Journalism, which includes two African-Americans as well as two Asians, but noted that few other Rider departments have any African-American professors.

“There are so many solutions to the problem,” she said. “I think it’s important for us to release some of our notions about who’s allowed to be a professor and who’s qualified, even when we get to the interview process.

“I’m actually tired of talking about race. I want to see an institutional change at my university. Every university has diversity in their mission statement. But it’s just a thing to say. It’s not in practice.”

Rider students interviewed in the film include Gabrielle Magwood, Joshua Bonaparte, Chelsea Jenkins, Malissa Hanson, Shariq Marshall, Steven Stain and Diamond Carr. Howard also interviewed Matt Metzger, the assistant director of admissions at Rider.

She was assisted in the production by a number of Rider alumni, students and staff: Andrew Corkery, ’14, lead camera and cinematography, with additional camera work done by senior digital media majors Stefan Hueneke, Carlos Decid and Rider’s video technologies coordinator, Scott Alboum.

The audience included a busload of 42 Rider students and staff, including the dean of the School of Education, Dr. Sharon Sherman.

Sherman had encouraged her students to attend.

“Our students will teach children and adolescents of diverse backgrounds, and this will be an important experience for them,” she said.

During the Q&A, the matter of introducing African-American history classes into schooling came up. The fact is, a questioner said, most if not all K-12 schools primarily teach European history.

Howard replied, “One of the things I try to bring out in the documentary is the need for a class in the core curriculum that actually teaches us something substantial about race. In order to get beyond something, you have to first understand it.”

 

Printed in the 3/2/16 edition.

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