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Who are You? In Six Words

Thursday, February 23, 2017
Michele Norris meeting with the president of Black Student Union.

Michele Norris meets with the Black Student Union during her visit to Trinity.

Trinity University community invited to share their own stories on “The Race Card Project” 

by Susie P. Gonzalez

Former National Public Radio journalist Michele Norris brought her “Race Card Project” to Trinity University and left the campus deep in thought about personal identities.

Speaking at Laurie Auditorium in early February, Norris invited the audience to fill out their own “race card.” The idea is to condense “your story” into a six-word sentence that captures something about you as a person and the race(s) with which you identify.

After her visit, Trinity was named a “Race Card Project Spotlight School” and a unique web page was created to exemplify the partnership. Entries may be added to the page through the end of the academic school year in May.

President Danny Anderson, who has encouraged the campus to “embrace, appreciate, and celebrate the diversity” of everyone in the Trinity community, has invited all not just to read everyone else’s “race cards” but to add their own.

Tahlar Rowe, a junior from Houston majoring in political science, is president of the Black Student Union, which invited Norris to meet the group while she was on campus. Rowe also encouraged Trinity students to take part in the Race Card Project.

"I believe it is important for students to participate in this activity because we all experience the ills of socially constructed ‘race’ differently, regardless of where we come from,” Rowe said. "’Race’ is a social construction because society has a way of crafting the word into something it is not, and allowing it to influence them to believe something about someone else that may not be true.”

In contrast, Rowe said the Trinity wall would “allow us all to see how each of us experience ‘race’ and our internal reactions to this socially constructed phenomenon."

Norris was a co-host of National Public Radio's newsmagazine All Things Considered, public radio's longest-running national program, from 2002 until 2012. During a sabbatical during the 2012 presidential campaign, she developed two successful initiatives, including The Race Card Project, which captures people’s views on race in six-word sentences, and NPR's Backseat Book Club for “junior brainiacs.” She also released a book in September 2010, The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, which focuses on how America talks about race and explores her own family's racial legacy. It has been credited with spurring discussions across the country about the history of race relations in the United States.

Norris said she knew people would be uncomfortable when talking about race. Her solution was to offer people a “light touch” by suggesting they condense their story into six words. “By doing that, I have a secret window into their heart,” she said.

The project has taken off, with more than 50,000 “race cards” having been submitted online and by mail. She said she has received “race cards” from all 50 states and from 60 countries – an onslaught that represents a strong level of trust in her and what she will do with such personal stories.    

Her Trinity appearance was sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with Texas Public Radio's “Dare to Listen” campaign.

Susie P. Gonzalez, senior manager of public relations, can be reached at susie.gonzalez [at] trinity.edu or @susiegonz.