Dr. Stacey Pearson-Wharton has previously titled her presentation on privilege, difficult conversations and apologies: “When you step in the multicultural poo,” poop emoji optional.
Around 500 people filled the ballrooms in the Student Union Building to attend Pearson-Wharton’s talk: “When Intent Doesn’t Equal the Impact: Healing Relationships in the Wake of Offense” on Wednesday evening.
Pearson-Wharton said her goal was to give the attendees the tools to effectively apologize and to recognize their own privileges, and recognize what to do in uncomfortable situations arising around race, gender and sexuality.
“I want to be clear that just because you feel uncomfortable does not mean you are unsafe,” Pearson-Wharton said.
Pearson-Wharton emphasized her focus was teaching people how to better apologize to one another — to make sure the apology is not reluctant or insincere.
When you’ve stepped in it, and someone’s let you know you’ve stepped in it, the first thing you should do — not second, not third — but the first thing you should do is apologize and don’t contextualize,” she said.
She had the audience repeat after her “apologize and don’t contextualize” and said the efforts to excuse or deflect “make the situation worse, always.”
Her talk was animated, often punctuated by laughter at her own jokes and anecdotes about her own struggles to not step on other cultures or misgender the people in her life.
She invited audience participation, asking participants to stand up or come onto the stage for demonstrations.
During the Question and Answer section, a member of the audience came up to the microphone to ask the crowd to properly thank her for her talk, eliciting a standing ovation.
Other students asked questions about the distinction between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, asked how to actually bring awareness to the experiences people are feeling and how to broach or correct family members on difficult topics.
The three governing Greek bodies — the College Panhellenic Council, Interfraternity Council and Multicultural Greek Council — helped organize and provided funds and received appropriations from the Associated Students of UNM to bring Pearson-Wharton to UNM.
Greek life presidents agreed to have 70 percent of their chapters attend the talk.
Matthew Lumpp, UNM’s Greek Advisor, told the Daily Lobo the talk was part of a series of inclusion for Greek life based on conversations with the Black Student Union and Fraternity and Sorority leadership.
“This talk was to address inclusion, diversity and social justice within our community, just based on incidents that have happened in the community or campus initiatives in general,” Lumpp said.
Lizzy Pritchard, a sophomore studying journalism and member Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated, said she would like to continue having the conversations brought up in the talk and Q&A.
Pritchard said she really enjoyed Pearson-Wharton’s talk because it brought uncomfortable topics in a group.
“I think a lot of people in the group don’t have those kinds of discussions in everyday life, they don’t think about it and they do just benefit from the privilege of not worry about that,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard said while what happened at the talk was important, she felt that even when race was brought up in the room there was a different reaction than when talking about gender or sexuality.
“Whenever (Pearson-Wharton) would mention race, the room would go silent, people looked uncomfortable or behind them to their friends, the vibe would just change,” she said. “I feel like it would be a lot different if a black student or Latinx student come up to the microphone and ask when we’re going to have the open conversation on what is or isn’t right when it comes to race,”
Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority (KKG) came under fire for “racial remarks” made last semester during a 2018 Greek New Member Summit presentation on mental health resources by Dr. Stephanie McIver, director of counseling at Student Health and Counseling, who is black. The Black Student Alliance also rejected an apology letter because they said it felt insincere.
“To have no sincerity or even acknowledge what (the problem) is… that’s the problem,” Arlen Nelson, president of the UNM Alpha Phi Alpha and a member of the Black Student Alliance told the Daily Lobo at the time. “It’s a whole thing bigger than Kappa Kappa Gamma.”
Pritchard said the context of Pearson-Wharton’s speech wasn’t directly mentioned, she said people involved in last semester knew why the talk was being held.
“For us, we’ve said it once, we’ve said it before and here’s another person coming into this university who is saying it again. When are you going to listen? When are you going to truly own up to actions and apologize for your actions?” she said, referencing Kappa Kappa Gamma on their remarks in the fall.
Kappa Kappa Gamma did not respond for requests to comment.
Danielle Prokop is a senior reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.