What do you know about UnLearn Week?
UnLearn Week can be defined a few different ways. According to Martin Avila, Calvin’s coordinator of multicultural student programming in the intercultural student development office,“UnLearn Week provides a safe, campus-wide forum for panel discussions, lectures, presentations and workshops that aim to increase self-awareness of deep-seated prejudices and stereotypes of cultures, race and gender,” Avila said. “Unlearn Week encourages personal evaluation of attitudes and actions toward those with different cultural values and increases knowledge of different cultures.”
Sophomore Kimo Cox defined it a slightly different way: “It is a week set aside by Calvin College and the MSDO (Multicultural Student Development Office) to kind of unlearn some of the stigmas and stereotypes and beliefs that we have about other cultures, particularly minority cultures, and to really engage in understanding.”
Heading into the week, Cox is “looking forward to people who wouldn’t normally engage in conversation about race and class issues and gender issues and things of that nature, to truly engage and at least try to understand.” Despite general optimism, Cox demonstrated there remains a few reservations in his statement: “I’m apprehensive about people not coming to learn but to prove themselves right about stuff.”
Esther Kwak, program coordinator for international student development, voiced her concerns. “I’m worried that our community may miss the point of UnLearn Week,” she said. “This is not about ‘others’ who are supposedly ‘ignorant’ to learn something; it is about ‘me’ discerning and learning about myself, my pre-conceived thoughts and beliefs.”
“From my experience here at Calvin,” said Avila, “some people in the Calvin community have called Unlearn Week, ‘a week to blame the majority students.’ I don’t believe UnLearn Week is a week to blame others for what has happened in history. I see UnLearn Week as a place where we, as a Calvin community, could have the difficult and uncomfortable discussion, be informed on what steps to take toward racial reconciliation, move beyond racial biases and become allies and advocates for each other.”
UnLearn Week is an important part of building a more welcoming and culturally competent community at Calvin. KHvR dorm president Erin Boersma thinks it is important that we have UnLearn week but is not sure how much impact it will have because the people who attend are typically those that are already more aware and the people who have the most to learn aren’t always inclined to attend. However, desired impact will eventually be made. UnLearn Week can have the effect it is designed to have.
Cox agreed, saying, “I honestly wish it was longer and I wish that it was spread out and not necessarily a week because when it’s things like that, I feel like people tend to ignore it like they do black history month where we only learn about the same three black people.”
This view was repeated by Kwak: “It is important but I hope this is not something we do just during UnLearn Week but to have constant conversations and discussions throughout the year.”
For Cox, the week can also reshape the way Calvin students view cultural issues.
“I feel that it can wake people up to the injustices we face and why we feel the way we do and why we react to certain situations the way we react to certain situations and vice versa.”
He continued, saying, “Racism is just a very emotionally laden topic on both sides of the spectrum. So I find it very important that people have an open dialogue and safe environments and actually try to understand one another’s viewpoints. It doesn’t take a person who’s fundamentally racist to do something that is racist.”
“Racism will most likely never go away,” said sophomore Patrick Haywood, “we just have to learn how to adapt to it and grow as people and learn to accept those who are racist but also help them along a better path.”
In closing, Avila offers a challenge: “Christians (or non-Christians) here at Calvin, we are called to live a vocation that is pleasing to God and to embody the Calvin mission of ‘thinking deeply, acting justly, living wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal.’ Racism is the complete opposite of what God wants us to be, and it doesn’t embody Calvin’s mission. Embodying Calvin’s mission is one of many ways we can start to become a culturally competent community and welcoming community.”