Diving into the new model of “Unlearn”

Some Calvin students may realize that this year, due to a thoughtful and necessary shift, the familiar “Unlearn Week” has been renamed “Unlearn 365.” This is a programming shift and a focus shift – instead of front-loading the year’s “unlearning” in just one week in October, the Multicultural Student Development Office (MSDO) has embraced the term “Unlearn 365,” with the connotation being: unlearning is not isolated in one week, but should be continued throughout the year, 365 days.

Martin Avila, Coordinator of Multicultural Student Programming, reflected on the idea of “unlearning,” saying, “as humans, we have implicit biases of how we perceive other people, but Unlearn Week, Unlearn 365 is meant for people to examine those biases and peel back those layers, to unlearn those harmful stereotypes.”

Unlearn week is antiracism programming, and that can be uncomfortable for some students. According to Martin, however, “in order to unlearn stereotypes, have tough conversations and be more empathetic,” students should “learn to embrace the discomfort.”

Martin recalled one of last year’s Unlearn speakers, Mark Charles, who said, “the first step to reconciliation is to be uncomfortable and then to get over that.”

Martin talked a bit about the shift in name from Unlearn Week, to Unlearn 365, saying, “the conversation needs to keep going on. [We thought] maybe if we change the name, that conversation can continue.” The name change was proposed and implemented by a group of students that serve on the Multicultural Student Advisory Board, a group from within the MSDO, which is led by Khayree Williams, the Assistant Dean for MSDO. The advisory board help to provide campus-wide cultural programming. The name change was suggested last year, with the idea that there will be about two events a month throughout the year. The advisory board decided that the initial kick-off week should still happen in mid-October, and should still be called Unlearn Week.

According to Martin, each of last week’s Unlearn events had at least forty students in attendance, with some exceeding two hundred students. This is definitely a good sign, and evidence that demonstrates, “that students do care about these issues, they do care about Black Lives Matter, about learning to empathize with others.”

The conversation about race and multiculturalism should continue throughout the year. There will be events each month: lectures, panels, film screenings and among others, each bearing the name “Unlearn.” These events will be planned by the advisory board and will feature guests from the Calvin community and the Grand Rapids community who can speak to the unique socio-political context of Calvin, as well as guests from other parts of the country who can speak to national and even international issues.