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Dr. Maria Elisa Christie spearheads efforts to combat racism

Dr. Maria Elisa Christie
Maria Elisa Christie, director of CIRED’s Women and Gender in International Development program, addresses participants virtually during the first OIA Conversations Series.

Following the recent wave of police brutality against Black Americans, CIRED has redoubled its efforts to fight against racism. 

Leading these efforts is Maria Elisa Christie, director of CIRED’s Women and Gender in International Development program. Christie was appointed the Office of International Affair’s InclusiveVT representative in 2016. Prior to that, she was named one of six university-wide inclusion coordinators supporting President Sand’s InclusiveVT framework.

In September, Christie organized and kicked off a new OIA Conversations on Race Webinar Series, “Racism, Justice, and Community Resilience.” The Conversations Series aims to build community resilience through stimulating conversations and personal and professional growth. It also provide a safe space for difficult conversations, learning, and dialogue surrounding systemic racism.

More than 400 people attended the first virtual talk that was moderated by Julie Walters Steele and featured Virginia Tech police Chief Mac Babb; faculty members Brandy Faulkner, Wornie Reed, and Michael Williams; and Karen Jones, chair of the political action committee of the Montgomery County/Radford City/Floyd County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

OIA conversations
Local leaders and race experts in the Virginia Tech community discussed local perspectives on race relations during the Conversations Series.

According to Christie, “This first OIA conversation on race focused on national and local events, including what is going on right here on campus. Participants appreciated the opportunity to have this frank dialogue with local leaders and race experts. It served to spark reflection on what we can all do as individuals and as part of Virginia Tech. The next OIA conversation will expand this conversation with an international perspective. ”

CIRED has also initiated a series of internal conversations led by Christie focused on encouraging open and honest dialogue among CIRED colleagues. According to Christie, “CIRED frequently engages with people of color around the world through development projects. Racism is not only a domestic problem, but it is often a shared experience among people of color globally. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to create spaces to discuss, identify, and implement approaches for addressing system racism globally.” 

To demonstrate its commitment to combating racism, CIRED faculty members and staff discussed and shared a statement of solidarity against racism. Additionally, CIRED launched a reading and reflection group for OIA employees to discuss Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. The group uses the book as a guide for exploring race and racism as they relate to the U.S., the OIA community, and the communities OIA works with around the world, as well as reflect on ways the department can facilitate and support racial equality and diversity both locally and globally.

The second talk in the OIA Conversations on Race Webinar Series is planned for November 12, and it will spotlight the experiences of three faculty members from Africa, Emmanuel Frimpong, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Khaled Hassouna, Center for International Research, Education, and Development, and Joseph Mukuni, School of Education. It will be moderated by Kathy Alexander, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.