NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As conversations across the nation surrounding race continue amid a period of ongoing protests nationwide, MTSU social work professor led a late summer panel discussion on race, diversity and parenting hosted by Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Donna Dopwell, assistant professor in the MTSU Department of Social Work, led the virtual “Lunch and Learn” panel discussion titled “How to Speak with Your Children About Race and Racism,” and hosted by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Center for Excellence for Children in State Custody.
The August event also featured Monica Beere, a foster parent recruiter and family support coordinator at Monroe Harding, and Zahnwhea Harmon, a licensed therapist from Mississippi, as panelists, and drew in over 55 mental health providers, social workers, child welfare administrators, court staff, foster parents, and educators from across the state of Tennessee.
The hourlong discussion can be watched below:
Dopwell said “the Lunch and Learn provided an opportunity for participants to learn new ways to handle the uncomfortable conversation around race (with children), and to recognize that our behaviors should match our words as well,” according to a VUMC news release.
The conversation touched on topics relevant to all children and parents, while also having a special focus on the experiences of children, parents, and families in the foster care system.
“All children, including white children, should be introduced to the topics of race and racism early and often; that children need to know that they have a safe space within which to discuss such topics; and that anti-racist actions are necessary as well,” said Dopwell.
Over 92% of attendees stated that the event increased their knowledge on the topic of speaking with children about racism and over 94% stated that the presentation would provide information relevant to their work with children.
A unique element of the panel discussion was that each panelist shared not only professional expertise, but also honest perspectives from their personal, lived experience as parents (foster parents, adoptive, and biological) in biracial or multicultural households.
“As parents, our priority is to protect our children while simultaneously preparing them to function in the world,” Harmon said in the release. “This is meant to be holistic: economically, socially, spiritually, and racially. It is an incredible responsibility with many challenges. We prepare our children for so many of the things they might encounter, why would we not do that in regard to race?”
Said Beere: “Both as a professional and as a mother, I firmly believe that if we cannot openly talk about the issues happening in our society, our silence is only allowing things to continue as they have been. It’s important for me personally to take a stand against the injustices I see happening around us.”
One attendee wrote in their feedback: “It was great to hear the perspectives and experiences of parents (and foster parents) of biracial children and how they are coping, particularly in this current environment. It definitely made me respect and better understand the challenges that they face while raising children of a different race.”
Other participants reflected on “the importance of having conversations with kids early and often about race and creating a safe space where they can bring concerns to you,” and “the importance of preserving the connection with the biological family, (and) how messages about the biological family can be tied in to messages about race and ethnicity.”
The Vanderbilt Center of Excellence for Children in State Custody is part of a statewide network funded under an agreement with the state of Tennessee to improve the public health by enhancing the quality of services provided to children in or at-risk of entering the Tennessee child welfare or juvenile justice systems.