Most of the time, the word "race" is the precursor to an awkward pause. It takes a rare student like Lester Mackey '07 to get beyond that discomfort and delve into the meat of the issue. As a senior staff member of The Prism, the only magazine on campus focusing on "diversity," Mackey finds himself with a unique forum to address the issue. Over his three years at Princeton, though, he has come to realize that it's no easy task.
With the tag "Dialogue. Diversity. Difference...," The Prism is resurging this fall (after funding problems last year) in large part due to Mackey's brainstorming sessions with editor Aita Amaize '07 this past summer.
"We would throw around ideas, to try to give [The Prism] a better presence on campus," Mackey said. During the summer sessions, Mackey came up with the Free Writing Hour, a weekly program sponsored by the Residential Colleges that encourages students to take the time to sit down, snack and write together, if only for one hour per week.
Mackey, who is black, said he thought about race "not much at all" during his adolescence. Yet, at his public high school in Long Island, Mackey said "segregation by geography" based on "patches of black, Hispanic, and white communities" created a "very interesting mix, both racially and economically."
The move to Princeton, Mackey admits, was a bit of a culture shock. When the news came that Princeton was voted as an all-around "good school" for Hispanic students, Mackey recalls, "Someone sitting next to me said, 'Hah, that's a joke!' "
As a freshman, Mackey recalls being tempted by the ease of associating with groups based on his race. He did join the Black Student Union (BSU), but he also signed up for the Chinese Student Association and the Taiwanese-American Student Association.
"I choose not to simply go into a crowd based along racial lines, just because it would be familiar to me ... It's a good thing, it's a positive thing ... to hang out with people of the same race," he said. "But you don't even have to try to make friends with people outside of your race. As an easy path, this becomes detrimental ... If you had a BSU event, you would feel uncomfortable if you weren't black."
To combat such "passive discrimination," Mackey said, student groups must be more proactive about including everyone. It can't be on a "by the way" basis, Mackey said, encouraging "broader inclusiveness" to "bridge gaps" between racial groups. "You have to go out of your way [to make others feel welcome]."
Mackey's ongoing activities include the Black Student Union's Leaders and Mentoring Program (LAMP), which also hosts barbeques, movie nights, and study breaks. On Sustained Dialogue and Paideia, an ongoing dinner series featuring professors on various issues, Mackey reflected, "This is more than just talk. This is a possibility to learn something new, to get beyond being stuck in your own little world. It challenges you to analyze your own opinions, to see if there are good arguments against it ... Even as students are walking back to their rooms, and on the fields, and on the streets," he said, "the dialogue doesn't stop."
The Prism's deadline for submitting work for the fall issue is Nov. 6, 2006. The magazine is accepting accounts of personal experience, academic essays, creative nonfiction, poetry, scripts, comics and novel excerpts.