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9th-Graders Visit a Race Exhibit at the Echo Center

On Thursday, November 8th, students in 9th grade Language Arts visited the Echo Center in Burlington to explore the visiting exhibit “Race: Are We So Different?” The social construction of race is an idea prevalent in the two novels we have read so far this year, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The exhibit aims to take a scientific, historical, and cultural look at our conceptions of race, and uses video footage of interviews, visual displays, written timelines, and hands-on activities to present the many different facets of this often hard-to-discuss topic. Also included in the exhibit were stations where visitors could document their own experiences with race; these first-hand accounts provided some of the most compelling components of the exhibit. The narratives were written by people of many ages and from many different backgrounds, and were honest, moving, often troubling, but frequently hopeful. The students spent about an hour exploring the many displays, and reflected on the visit in a homework assignment. The following are excerpts from some of their written reactions to the exhibit:

“Our class arrived at Echo and started to chatter, but the second we walked into the Race Exhibit, the chattering slowly began to fade into different exhibits. The exhibits and visual representations were shocking. Some of the subject matters were topics we had discussions about in class, but some were not, and that’s what I liked about the exhibit. There were exhibits that talked about Native American mascots, and some about how the skin reacts to the environment. I liked how the exhibit was catered to people of all ages. For me, the visual representations of inequality were the best examples and best ways to prove a point. Yet, for others, it was the timeline about dates in history revolving around inequality and equality.” – Camille Bartsch

“While visiting the Race exhibit at Echo, my partner and I came across a station that was a small screen with three buttons on the bottom. On the screen were six faces, each a different race. Pressing the button on one side played a voice recording of a (unidentified) person speaking, and the viewer would try to guess which of the faces that voice belonged to. The button on the other side would light up the face of which that voice belonged to. The tricky part of this was, the voices did not quite match the faces as much as one would expect. For example, the voice with a clear “American” accent would match up with a photograph of an Asian woman’s face, and not a Caucasian woman’s face. This exhibit made me think before I judged. This station was showcasing that race does not determine much of anything besides what it is. The voice does reflect the appearance; it reflects the place where one spends the majority of one’s life, and the ways it grows up to know. A person with ancestors who lived in America could have grown up in Africa, thus having a thick African accent. This station surprised me a great deal, and now when I look at people I will think before I judge.” – Leah Dinkin

“One piece of information that I found intriguing was the small display on how race classification changed over the years. Ever since the beginning, there was an idea of separation of different people based on appearance, including in 1792 when a “racial angle” was conceived that classified people on how their brow and nose were angled. In 1839, physician Samuel George Morton made a study on how human skull size made a difference in intelligence by measuring different race’s skulls. It was later shown that his study was completely false, because he excluded skulls that didn’t support his theory, and it is now known that skull size has nothing to do with your intelligence.” – Lincoln Pierce

Posted by Christie Beverage, Language Arts Chairperson

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