Conversation about Identity Raises Cultural Awareness at Trinity College

Diversity Trainer Lee Mun Wah Says, ‘The Time to Talk about Racism is Always Now’

​Hartford, Connecticut, September 27, 2017 – Noted Chinese-American diversity trainer, therapist, filmmaker, author, poet, and educator Lee Mun Wah recently delivered a lecture at Trinity College as part of Trinity’s ongoing series, “Bridging Divides: Higher Education’s Role in Advancing Understanding and Promoting a Just Society.” The September 19 Common Hour talk, titled “An Unfinished Conversation,” was attended by P.R.I.D.E. leaders, faculty members, administrative staff, and students in the Washington Room at Mather Hall.

​Lee Mun Wah spoke at Trinity College on September 19, 2017.
“An Unfinished Conversation” led the audience on an exploration of concerns about inequality and racism in America. Lee promoted techniques to reduce a sense of isolation and alienation among members of the community, particularly among those who have experienced fear, anger, or deep pain because of familial or societal neglect, abuse, or discrimination. “Get to know those who are different from you,” Lee said. “This workshop is not just to talk about diversity, but to talk about diversity with the people who are sitting right here.” 

Lee related the story of a young man who was expelled from the school where Lee was teaching at the time for gambling in the bathroom. The student begged to stay, since the school was close to his friends and his home, but his plea went unheeded. Later the former student entered a life of crime and ended up taking Lee’s mother’s life. This tragedy helped inspire Lee to become a therapist. “When hurt is unacknowledged, anger emerges,” Lee said. “We have to understand that when people are not believed, they get angry. What happened? Did we hear them? Did we believe them?”

To defeat discrimination, Lee believes that Americans must begin to engage with and carefully listen to one another to heal the divides that loom large in the country and in local communities. Lee said that people must open themselves to hear each other’s stories and risk vulnerability by sharing their own. He emphasized that it is crucial to bring candor, compassion, and empathy to these conversations and he added that accepting differences will result in greater harmony. “The time to talk about racism is always now,” he said.

​Lee Mun Wah engaged in conversations with the audience and encouraged members of the Trinity community to speak with each other.  Photos by Nick Caito.
The lecture gave way to a workshop in which the participants were encouraged to pair with someone they had never met before. By doing this, Lee aimed to push the audience members out of their comfort zones and said that even by taking this simple step, the Trinity community has already come together more than before. Lee asked each pair to talk about assumptions they had made about each other based on appearances, what they feel they need to know about one another, and what they wished others knew about them.

Lee said, “I urge you to ask these questions: Can you tell me more about what you meant by that? What angered you about that? What hurt you about that?” By taking the time to further understand individuals, he said, one gains a deeper understanding of that individual, their motives, why anger or feelings of being treated unjustly may exist, and how an oppositional stance between individuals can be positively shifted.

Lee’s talk was part of a series of events scheduled this semester to bring together the Trinity community in creating an environment that invites dialogue and promotes understanding across differences. Dean of Multicultural Affairs and Senior Diversity Officer Karla Spurlock-Evans said, “Lee Mun Wah offered perspectives on the issues animating Trinity’s current climate concerns, placing our local conflicts in a broader context. He offered pathways to rapprochement between faculty, students, and administrators so we can more effectively engage in the difficult dialogues we wish to promote through Bridging Divides.” For more information about Bridging Divides and its upcoming programming, click here.

Lee is the executive director of Stirfry Seminars & Consulting, which specializes in training and workshops on multicultural communication and awareness, and ways to mediate conflict. He has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss his 1994 documentary film, The Color of Fear. The award-winning film was noted for its critique of race in America from the perspectives of individuals of Asian, European, Latino, and African descent.

Written by Dana Martin ’18


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Photos by Nick Caito. To view the full Flickr album of photos from which this slide show was generated, please click here.