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Race Relations funding produces talks, films, talent show

Operation Crosscut and Operation Crosscut II, directed by New House housemasters John M. and Ellen Essigmann and produced by the Committee on Campus Race Relations (CCRR), were so successful that III and IV are on the drawing board.

The cross-cultural events were among 14 that received grants from CCRR in 1996-97. The committee also supported programs sponsored by the foreign language and literatures section, the List Visual Arts Center, the MIT Black Christian Fellowship and the Committee for Social Justice.

Operation Crosscut attracted 108 students last September to dinner, a showing of the film "Intuitively Obvious V" in which MIT students discuss racial attitudes, and a discussion about the issues raised in the film.

"It was a good, frank and respectful discussion," with more than one third of the dormitory students present, the Essigmanns wrote in a report to the CCRR.

Of particular concern to the students were the relatively small number of minority faculty at MIT. Many students felt that affirmative action programs had not created enough movement of qualified minority candidates into academic positions.

Another point of discussion was the choice made by some minority students to live in housing that is all or predominantly comprised of students of the same race or culture. The reasons behind such choices were discussed and parallels were drawn to the housing preferences of Orthodox Jewish undergraduates at MIT.

The Essigmanns plan to duplicate the food/film/discussion formula for Operation Crosscut III in October. The movie will be either a feature film that deals indirectly with race relations or one of the "Intuitively Obvious" films.

Operation Crosscut IV, like Operation Crosscut II last May, will probably be a cross-cultural talent show and culinary arts competition, with a team of judges again selecting the winners based on cultural content and audience response.

In the talent show, first prizes went to Jennifer Johnson for an African dance and Russian House for a musical spoof of problems faced by Russian students at MIT. Second prize was awarded to Erika Perez and Cinawaye Gammon for a Spanish opera presentation and Samuel Riley for an original piano composition. William Morgan took third prize for a one-man show.

Christiana Toutet of German House won the first prize in the culinary competition for her Charlotte aux Framboises. Second prize went to Dora Farkas of German House for Rakott Krumpli. Marcus Thorne of Chocolate City won third prize for his macaroni and cheese.

"We accomplished our objective of bringing students from diverse cultures and races together in a forum that allowed them to obtain a snapshot of each other's world," the Essigmanns wrote after Operation Crosscut II. About 90 students took������������������part in the program.

The name Crosscut was chosen to reflect the diverse backgrounds of the nine living groups within New House. "There are some issues of daily life that cut across all living groups, hence Operation Crosscut," said Professor Essigmann, a professor of toxicology and chemistry and a MacVicar Faculty Fellow. "Race relations, study skills, stress management and health education are four such issues."

Foreign languages and literatures sponsored a talk by Cornell University Professor Maria Antonia Garces last May on "The������������������Politics of Iconography: Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and the Black Legend of Modern Europe." About 25 people attended the talk, including 12 undergraduates. The 50-minute presentation was followed by a 20-minute question-and-answer period. "Although undergraduates did not ask questions, they listened attentively, and a few of them approached Professor Garces at the end and individually asked questions," said Assistant Professor Nicolas Wey-Gomez, who plans to organize similar events this year.

The List Center presented a program entitled "Memory, Tradition, Displacement: Asian American Identities in Recent Film." Seven of the 11 films were purchased with grant funds and are available to the MIT community through the Program in Film and Media Studies.

The MIT Black Christian Fellowship used its grant to sponsor an IAP seminar that featured Boston area ministers discussing a variety of topics, including faith in politics, the distribution of wealth, racial reconciliation and racial tolerance. The program was entitled "The Bible and Social Justice."

The Committee for Social Justice, a student group, received funds for a two-week program entitled "Stand Up, Stand Out, Speak Out: Days of Multicultural Solidarity at MIT." Campus groups involved included Mujeres Latinas, Sangam, LUChA (La Union Chicana por Aztlan), Amnesty International, GAMIT and the Black Students Union.

The CCRR was established in 1994 by President Charles M. Vest to assess the racial climate on campus and sponsor activities that will improve it. The co-chairs are Professors Ellen Harris of the Department of Music and Theater Arts and James Chung of electrical engineering and computer science. Faculty, staff and students serve on the committee. In three years, CCRR has awarded more than $24,000 in grants.

During 1997-98, the CCRR will review grant applications on a rolling basis; those received by the end of any month from September to April will receive a decision by the middle of the following month. Contact Elizabeth Connors (Rm 14N-112, <>, x3-0764) or Ayida Mthembu (Rm 5-106, <>, x3-4861) for more information.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 17, 1997.

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