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Speaker Details Ways to Improve Racial Literacy and Reduce Harmful Encounters

September 25, 2020
Howard C. Stevenson

“If I am offended by someone who is being hateful to me, that stress can affect my sleep quality tonight, or five weeks from tonight, or ten years from tonight. It can affect my children’s sleep,” said Howard C. Stevenson, PhD, the Constance Clayton Professor of Urban Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Stevenson spoke to a Zoom audience of over 100 students, faculty, and staff at the MGH Institute’s fall 2020 E. Lorraine Baugh Visiting Faculty Scholar Lecture on September 21. In his talk, “The Lion’s Story Reckoning: Disrupting Dehumanization with Racial Literacy,” he discussed the emotional trauma arising from racially stressful encounters.

In addition to teaching, Stevenson is director of Forward Promise, a national program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help young men of color and their families heal from the trauma of historical and present-day dehumanization, discrimination, and colonization.

Stevenson discussed research findings showing how racial literacy, whether taught formally through the Forward Promise program or by parents who talk with their children about race, can help resolve those kinds of personal encounters. Racial literacy is a knowledge of the emotions many people can feel in racially stressful situations.

He suggested that mindfulness and emotional awareness are powerful tools to help build racial literacy, navigate racially stressful encounters, and avoid harmful, “automated” responses such as self-destructive anger. “Calculate, locate, communicate, breathe, and exhale,” he advised. “Racial literacy takes practice. It’s more than just education. It’s behavioral.”

View full lecture.

About the E. Lorraine Baugh Visiting Faculty Scholar Lectures

In 2012, MGH Institute Honorary Trustee Carol M. Taylor and her husband, John H. Deknatel funded the E. Lorraine Baugh Visiting Faculty Scholar Lecture series in honor of the Institute’s first chair of the Board of Trustees. Fifteen lectures focusing on issues of diversity and inclusion in the health professions have occurred since that time.

In choosing to honor Baugh, Taylor said, “Ever since I joined the Board of Trustees in 2004, Lorraine has served as an inspiration and beacon on issues of diversity. While the Institute has made great strides in recent years, this lecture series can help further advance the importance and value of diversity and inclusion to ensure our MGH Institute graduates are well-prepared to care for an increasingly diverse society.”