Racial profiling explored for Constitution Day observance

September 7, 2023
Poster for Constitution Day 2023

Fitchburg State University will observe Constitution Day in September with a series of programs exploring racial profiling from a variety of perspectives, from statistics to social media and historical precedents.

Constitution Day is observed each September in honor of the national document’s signing on Sept. 17, 1787. The university’s programming is presented by the General Education Program, with funding from the Office of Student Development and refreshments from the Student Government Association.

The programming begins Monday, Sept. 18, with a presentation by Worcester State University Professor Mary Fowler, a statistician who has testified as an expert witness in support of making constitutional provisions effective in Massachusetts. She will give a talk at 3:30 p.m. in the main lounge of Hammond Hall entitled “Racial Profiling and the Constitution: What Do Math, Maps, and the Law Have to Say?” The talk will look at a series of racial profiling cases that illustrate the development of this area of law. Admission is free and open to the public.

Fowler will also be giving a talk to university students in an advanced statistics course about her work as an expert witness in data analysis. That talk will be at 12:30 p.m., also in the Hammond lounge.

Programming will continue beyond Monday’s events, including a talk at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19 by faculty members Kyle Moody and J.J. Sylvia of the Communications Media Department. Their talk, entitled “Social Media’s Racial Filter, Activated: How Digital Media Uses Race and Platforming to Profile,” will delve into racial performativity and profiling in digital platforms. The discussion will invite participants to consider how social media can both shape and reinforce racial discourse and biases. The event will be held in the main lounge at Hammond Hall.

The discussions continue at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, when Professor Ben Railton of the English Studies Department presents “Debating & Constituting 'We the People': The Constitution, the 1790 Naturalization Act, & the Idea of America.” Railton’s talk looks at the opening words of the constitution and asks, who comprises that “we”? The talk will also look at one of the nation’s first laws - the Naturalization Act of 1790 - that limited the possibility of gaining U.S. citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person” who had been in the United States for two years. Examining these two documents and their contexts helps us understand how “we the people” was debated and constituted in the founding era, and how those contested inclusive and exclusionary definitions continue to shape our 21st century community. This talk will also be held in the main lounge of Hammond Hall.

The week’s events conclude with a workshop at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21 in the university library, when Professor Jane Huang of the Environmental, Geographic and Public Health Sciences Department and Assistant Professor Eileen Kirk of the Behavioral Sciences Department discuss mapping and profiling communities. The talk looks at how historic and current boundaries influence neighborhoods, exploring maps and examining spatial patterns to understand inequalities across communities. Attendees will have the opportunity to use the Mapping Inequality map to examine the history of redlining and the Opportunity Atlas website to understand how communities influence individuals’ opportunities.

In addition to the live programming, the Amelia V. Gallucci-Cirio Library will have a book display and online resources available.

For more information, visit https://www.fitchburgstate.edu/academics/general-education-program/constitution-day.