Wilder Symposium examines race in American society

U.S. Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott, D-Richmond, speaks during the Wilder Symposium on Race ...
U.S. Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott, D-Richmond, speaks during the Wilder Symposium on Race and American Society.

At a daylong symposium to examine the role race plays in American society, participants discussed the many ways race affects the life and culture of the country, while searching for solutions to problems that remain entrenched.

The Wilder Symposium, held last Friday in the Grace Street Theater at Virginia Commonwealth University, attracted about 100 people to each of three sessions – about race and the criminal justice system, race and public opinion, and race and the media.

Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs at VCU, opened the event and described its focus as timely, given the nation’s ongoing struggle with issues of race, class and inclusion.

“It is also a discussion that is critical to the mission of American universities in engaging the community – both internally and externally -- in informed discourse,” Hackett said.

The day’s first session, “Race & the Criminal Justice System in America,” featured keynote speaker Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, who described the 1963 Civil Rights March as groundbreaking but said work remains to promote equal access to jobs, education and voting rights.

“We’re fighting some of the same battles today as we were 50 years ago,” Scott said. 

The first session featured John Venuti, VCU police chief; Alfred Durham, Richmond police chief; and local attorneys Vinceretta Taylor Chiles and Vincent Robertson. They discussed policing practices and perceptions. The session was moderated by Robert Holsworth, Ph.D.

Chief John Venuti, Virginia Commonwealth University Police, speaks during the "Race and the Criminal Justice System in America" panel, part of the Wilder Symposium on Race and American Society. The event was held Friday at VCU's Grace Street Theatre.
Chief John Venuti, Virginia Commonwealth University Police, speaks during the "Race and the Criminal Justice System in America" panel, part of the Wilder Symposium on Race and American Society. The event was held Friday at VCU's Grace Street Theatre.

The second session, “Race & Public Opinion,” included presentations of research from Scott Keeter, Ph.D., survey director of the Pew Research Center; Gail Christopher, vice president of policy at the Kellogg Foundation; and Andra Gillespie, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at Emory University.

The session was moderated by nationally recognized pollster Ronald Lester, who was hired earlier this year to manage the Commonwealth Poll, which is coordinated by the Center for Public Policy in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

The final session, “Race and the Media,” featured talk radio hosts Joe Madison from Sirius/XM radio and Jack Gravely from WLEE and Brandi Summers, Ph.D., assistant professor of African-American studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder thanked the audience for participating in sessions that he described as engaging.

“Race is the 400-pound gorilla in the room,” Wilder said. “It is not a brand-new phenomenon. Can you imagine anything that’s occurring in America today that doesn’t have some underlying portent relative to race?”

Wilder also signed copies of his recently released autobiography, “Son of Virginia: A Life in American’s Political Arena.”

 

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Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder speaks during the Wilder Symposium on Race and American Society. The event was held Friday at Virginia Commonwealth University's Grace Street Theatre.
Click to view slideshow. Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder speaks during the Wilder Symposium on Race and American Society. The event was held Friday at Virginia Commonwealth University's Grace Street Theatre.