On Feb. 13, junior political science major, Kiara Arias, and sophomore mechanical engineering major, Ruben Saint Paul, hosted a program entitled “Blindfolded Discussion” in the Wagner College Lounge. The pair as Resident Assistants (RAs) are required to host programs that expose their residents to new ideas and cultures. In attempts to bring attention to the importance of Black History Month and its impact on the students of Stony Brook University, Arias and Saint Paul were eager and excited to introduce this program.
Hoping to encourage conversation about the black experience in America today, the pair asked their blindfolded participants a series of questions concerning the issues faced by black people in the U.S.
Arias and Saint Paul facilitated the event by offering each participant a blindfold and pairing them up. The couples were then asked to speak to each other for five minutes in response to questions and hypothetical scenarios about race and social injustice. The group of participants was made up of students from various backgrounds and ethnicities including Egyptian, Chinese, Haitian and Jamaican, to name a few.
This diversity made for interesting conversation as each individual shared their unique perspectives and experience in regards to race. Questions like, “Have you ever been treated differently because of your skin color?” or “How do you feel about interracial relationships?” became the foundation of intense discussion that brought attention to race and the way it affects the lives of people of color. As a participant, I found that at first, sharing my experiences with complete strangers was nerve-racking. However, I soon found that the other attendants were very respectful and eager to listen to each other’s arguments about race and its effect on society.
When asked why she decided to host this event, Arias explained a failed attempt to showcase black history through the film “13th” in her first year as an RA. The documentary, directed by Ava DuVernay and released in 2016, calls attention to the American justice system and racial discrimination against black Americans. Arias was discouraged after someone “only came [to the event] for ice cream and then left,” but she was determined to find a new way to galvanize conversation about black history and its contribution to America.
She explained, “ … I still want to have these sorts of discussions, but I was trying to think about how to do it in an interesting and engaging way.” Although Stony Brook did something similar for Hispanic Heritage month, Arias was then inspired by a popular reality show called “Dating in the Dark” in which the contestants of the show go on both literal and figurative blind dates, forcing them to only base their judgments of each other on their personality. Arias realized that the fear of being judged is one reason students may shy away from programs focusing on social issues. Adopting the idea of speaking and listening to a partner without being able to see them, the program gave participants an opportunity to express themselves with less apprehension.
By creating “Blindfolded Discussion,” the duo presented Stony Brook students with the opportunity to discuss the importance of black history and its impact on society. Built on oppression and discrimination against people of color, the United States would not be the country it is today if not for the innovation and tireless labor of black Americans. Though it can be difficult to talk about, it is important that we continue to have discussions like the ones encouraged by Arias and Saint Paul. Everyone deserves to be heard, regardless of where they come from or how they look.
The introduction of “Blindfolded Discussion” is a great start to emphasizing this message to the SBU community; and it has already made a lasting impression on its participants by providing a safe space for them to express their anxieties, hopes, and concerns about today’s society.