BVU director: time to talk openly about race in Buena Vista County

Thursday, November 1, 2001

It's time to talk, openly and uninhibitedly.

Leon Williams, director of intercultural programs at Buena Vista University, hopes to create such a dialogue throughout BV's campus, Storm Lake and the county.

He organized the first of what he hopes to be continuing public dialogues on race relations last week. It was in response to an article published last month in Buena Vista County.

For an hour a group of students and a handful of community members discussed their thoughts on race relations. Many were challenged by earlier remarks Williams has made, while others voiced appreciation for them.

"My hope is to do this again and have more people from the community come out - let's talk about the issues not on the table," Williams said.

A dialogue is possible on several different levels - between students at BVU and between students and the community.

Williams feels his role is to act as a bridge between the BVU's minority student population and the community. For example, some students do not understand the dynamics of diversity in Storm Lake, while others have not felt safe, he said.

"We need more communication, a dialogue about the realizations that we go through, what these students actually experience, what's going on in our community and how we feel on a local level," Williams said.

"In order for our community to grow, these things need to be exposed," he said. "Our community is no different than any other and we need to have these types of discussions. This forum was an opportunity to do that.

"The hardest thing to do in terms of race relations is coming to grips with 'Let's talk,'" Williams said. "It's a simple form of communication we're afraid of - it exposes our ignorance, lack of understanding, it exposes our biases, misconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes. People don't want to put themselves in those situations."

Those prejudices, misconceptions or biases are not something to be ashamed of, Williams said, but are things which need to be explored.

"That is the thing that stops us from communicating and leads to miscommunication," he said. "We don't want anybody else to know - we want people to see us as good."

Williams, who has spent years researching the subject and working with people, wants to open up more dialogues locally.

"Thursday was a great discussion that wasn't about pointing a finger, about who is guilty and who is not," Williams said.

Another public dialogue is being planned for the near future.

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