Hearts & Minds initiative to open up conversations about race

In relation to Black History Month, Residence Director of Warren and East Hall Benjamin Robles is starting up a new book series for students and faculty. The Hearts & Minds Book Series is completely led and organized by Robles, with the first book being “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo. Robles said the idea for the series came from his own personal connection to reading narratives, and he wanted to open up conversations about race among students. 

Robles said a big thing that encouraged him to start this initiative was some of the racist incidents that occurred at the University of Indianapolis during the Fall 2021-2022 semester. He said that as a person of color at UIndy, he felt like he needed to do something that would start conversations about race. 

“… I realize that some students, they’re getting some of this [conversations about race] in their classroom, but other students are not. I’m trying to figure out a way that we can meet that gap, and try to get all sorts of people included in the conversation,” Robles said. “This isn’t a book series for people of color, or for white people, it’s for all people who want to have a nuanced understanding of some of these bigger topics.”

The series currently has six books planned for this semester, picked out by junior psychology and communication major Bhumibol Shakya, Chair of Social Justice Committee in Residence Life and Residence Director of Central Hall Duke Gatsos and Assistant Director of Residence Life Robbie Williford. Robles said he wanted to have other people pick the books so that he did not have a bias on choosing the books. Robles spoke with Shakya to help decide which books to include in the series. Shakya said he recommended certain books that he thought would help students see a better way to look at humanity. 

“I think that one of the major things that students should take away [from this series] is to understand that we are basically human beings, and we should understand the human values that not any one of us is different,” Shakya said. “We are all basically together and come under the family of homosapiens, or human beings in itself.”

Robles said students should be a part of this so they can start thinking about both shared and unshared experiences and learning and having conversations about different stories. He said he hopes that students will talk amongst themselves about their perspectives on the readings because these conversations are important and valuable.

“I … want them to start thinking about their role in our community, not just the UIndy community or the American community, but just the human community. Thinking about what their obligation and responsibility is to others and developing empathy for others,” Robles said. “ … It [the series] is a place to connect students to each other, people who are like minded and want to discover more about these things. It’s creating a little bit of belonging for those students.”

Robles said that he plans to continue doing this series for as long as he is here, so long as the student interest continues. He said he hopes students will find enjoyment reading some of these narratives and being a part of conversations and discussions. 

“… Talking about race can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but lean into that uncomfortableness because that is what’s going to make our society better,” Robles said. “Don’t be afraid to not know something, or don’t be afraid to participate in the conversation out of fear of what other people will think because not having the conversation is how we got here.” 

Shakya said this club will help bring awareness to what is going on within the community. He said these books and this club will help students learn and see a better way to look at humanity.

“… It’s an initiative to make sure that we have awareness about what is happening in our society and how we can understand that to make sure that the future of UIndy, as well as the human life, usually brings the idea of love as a basis of dealing with problems rather than conflict,” Shakya said.

The first meeting for the Hearts & Minds series will be on Feb. 24 at 4:00 p.m. in Warren Hall, Robles said. Students can find out more about this by contacting Robles at roblesb@uindy.edu. He sent out an email to students with the meeting times and books included.

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