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Drew U First-Years Get Perspective from Racial Justice Organization

Founders of From Privilege to Progress speak to first-year seminars

September 2020 – Drew University first-year students are getting a crash course in big issues early in their college careers.

As part of university’s effort to bring issues of inequality, race, and inclusivity to the forefront of the Drew community’s consciousness, first-year students were treated to perspectives from the front lines of the fight.

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DSEM guest speakers Melissa DePino and Michelle Saahene, founders of From Privilege to Progress; photo courtesy FPTP

Psychology Professor Jill Cermele directs the first-year Drew Seminar (DSEM) program and organized a virtual visit from Melissa DePino and Michelle Saahene, founders of From Privilege to Progress (FPTP), a national movement to “desegregate the public conversation about race.”

All DSEM classes heard from DePino and Saahene via Zoom.

DePino and Saahene founded FPTP in 2018 after they both witnessed—and later exposed through a viral tweet—two Black men being arrested for simply sitting in a Starbucks without buying a drink. The exposure from the tweet, and subsequent protests, led to Starbucks shutting down all 8,000 U.S. stores for a day of racial-bias training.

The group’s call for white allies to “#ShowUp” in the fight against racism in America resonates even stronger in today’s social-political climate, and is an important message as first-year students are introduced into a diverse student body.

“Michelle and Melissa both made good suggestions on how to combat issues of racism in our daily practices,” said Isabella Robinson C’24. “It requires checking ourselves, educating ourselves, and standing up for yourself and others.”

“FPTP is aimed at showing those with inherent privilege how they can uplift people without inherent privilege, which is not a message I got during high school ‘diversity assemblies,'” said Madeleine Herbst C’24. “FPTP helped me escape the helplessness of white guilt I felt about racism, and made me realize what I could do to be part of the solution.”

“I think it’s very important to hear talks like these—they open the mind and make you think of things you probably wouldn’t on a daily basis.”

“It is vital that we hear about racism from all types of people,” added Robinson. “Both Michelle and Melissa provided important viewpoints that can help us all understand one another.”

“The talk made me want to grasp onto my identity and be an advocate for those from similar backgrounds and who look like me,” said Eden Linton C’24, who noted that, having grown up in the Commonwealth of Dominica before attending boarding school in northeast Ohio, she grew up in a society without overt racism.

“I think it’s very important to hear talks like these—they open the mind and make you think of things you probably wouldn’t on a daily basis.”

Class meeting times following FPTP’s virtual visit were spent reflecting on the experience.

“I kid you not when I say that I feel like I had a more meaningful discussion in that next class than I did at any point over my four years in high school,” said Herbst. “The perspectives and experiences at this school are incredibly diverse, and everyone in the discussion was respectful of the other students’ time and opinions.”

“We see this as the beginning of an ongoing conversation that we will have with the students moving forward, not just in DSEM,” said Cermele, who teaches the beloved DSEM course “Hogwarts, Houses, and Horcruxes: The Psychology of Harry Potter.”

“This conversation will continue throughout their first year, and for the entirety of their time at Drew.”

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