Students Perform Sociodramas to Bring Racial Discrimination Issues to Light
Professor John Reynolds Recognized for Leading The Promise Program
Of the 13 Moravian College students who performed sociodramas dealing with racial discrimination for a room filled with area high school students in Prosser Auditorium last week, Ashley Liriano '16 likely understood the significance of the programming better than most.
Just a few years ago, Liriano, now a sociology major at Moravian, was a William Allen High School student sitting in the very same auditorium seats, partaking in the College’s The Promise Program. The half-day conference, an initiative facilitated by John Reynolds, professor of political science at Moravian, and the Center for Humanistic Change since the early 1990s, addresses the concerns of high school students in the racially and ethnically diverse communities of the Lehigh Valley. The program provides students, teachers, administrators and community leaders a space in which they can speak candidly and honesty about their experiences. It was also an opportunity to talk with others without fear of retribution or embarrassment. (To view the College's photo gallery, click here.)
“I definitely have a different perspective now that I am in college,” said Liriano, who also performed in last year’s program. “As high school students, we aren’t exactly aware of many of the issues in society. Once you get into college, you have a greater sense of the world. You become more mature. Learning about the social issues definitely helped frame what I want to do with my life. My studies have made me want to learn more about different cultures. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to take part in this program.”
The first sociodrama skit – a role-playing experience in which students dramatized situations of potential conflict – centered on an interracial high school couple that fights over meeting their respective parents, and the resulting discussion and conversations with their friends.
The second act focused on three African American students being profiled as potential shoplifters by a white department store manager, and the difficult position he placed his sale associate in demanding she confront the shoppers.
ABOVE: Ashley Liriano '16 (center), who attended The Promise Program as a William Allen High School student, has performed in the program the past two years.
ABOVE: John Reynolds (right), professor of political science at Moravian, was recognized at the conference for his two decades of service leading The Promise Program..
Several parts of the dialogue included insensitive and discriminatory comments, drawing noticable reactions from the students from the 10 high schools in attendance. Although the performances were fictitious, the College actors selflessly put themselves in a precarious position with the audience.
“The actors who were making the controversial comments and statements really worked at it,” said Chris Hunt, associate dean of students and director of intercultural advancement and inclusion. “They did it eyes wide open. They knew what they were getting into. They knew what they said was going to be unpopular, but they did so to start an important conversation.
“I think they also looked forward to the end, when they could address the audience and say, ‘Look, I’m not a racist.’”
Colton Krial ’15, a philosophy major and Liberty High School alumnus, did just that following his performance, where he played an antagonist. “I just tried to be the opposite of what I really am,” he explained as the actors were introduced at the workshop’s conclusion.
Liriano seconded how challenging the performances were. “I couldn’t even response to some of the things the kids were asking,” she said. “I had to pause because it was difficult.”
The performances were followed by group discussions in which students examined the sociodrama situations and explored how their high school experiences are shaped by cultural diversity.
During The Promise Program, Hunt and members of the Center for Humanistic Change, a not-for-profit agency that provides prevention education and life skills training, recognized Reynolds for his two decades of service leading the initiative. The organizers presented the professor with a plaque, which will be displayed in the lounge of the Department of Political Science. Beginning next year, Reynolds will hand over the program’s direction to the Center for Intercultural Advancement and Inclusion.
“This program has been Dr. Reynolds’ vision, dating back to 1991,” Hunt said. “We felt it was necessary to recognize the great work he has put into this program, and the number of lives he has impacted in a positive way.” Reynolds will continue to serve as a consultant for the program moving forward.
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