When Alyssa Adams looks in the mirror, she sees a dimpled black woman with glossy lips. But last week she also got a glimpse of herself the way she might look as Asian, Hispanic or white.
Adams, a freshman from Maple Heights, was among a surge of students taking advantage of the newest plaything at the University of Akron: a Race Experience Kiosk that subtly tweaks participants’ features and changes the color of their skin.
UA rented the kiosk as part of its seventh annual Rethinking Race: Black, White and Beyond programs through Feb. 15.
“We’re always looking for something new to do on Rethinking Race,” said Amy Shriver-Dreussi, a UA associate professor of social studies and a co-chair of the UA race events. “This seemed like a great opportunity.”
The Rethinking Race series includes speakers, performances and films to goad participants into deeper conversations about all kinds of issues facing all kinds of races.
A highlight of this year’s events will be T.J. Leyden, a former Nazi skinhead who will speak from 7:30 to 9:30 tonight at the Student Union theater.
He spent 15 years as a neo-Nazi white supremacist activist and recruiter, lobbying for the death of others — and often, it was whites who didn’t share his views.
“They were keeping the white race from evolving into what it could be. The philosophy was to get rid of nonracist whites, then go after everybody else,” said Leyden, who will only say he lives in southern Utah for continuing fears about his safety since turning on his former colleagues.
He has taught about the culture of hate at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, provided training for the FBI and police departments and testified on skinheads on trial for hate crimes.
Other speakers at UA’s Rethinking Race will include Ohio State law professor Michelle Alexander, who will discuss her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at E.J. Thomas Hall; and Haris Tarin, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, D.C., who will discuss Islamaphobia at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Student Center theater.
For students, the star attraction might be the Race Experience Kiosk.
Participants sit at a booth for a picture that the machine software massages into that of six different races. Participants can email their new looks to themselves and others.
“When I heard there was a machine that could change your race, I thought, ‘Wow, we’ve got to get that,’ ” said Darnell Davis Jr., a sophomore from McKeesport, Pa., who is the student chairman of the Rethinking Race planning committee.
The kiosk is among eight owned by Wolfman Productions of Southbury, Conn., that have been traveling around the country for the past 13 years, said Diane Thompson, the company’s chief financial officer.
The idea is that race has no scientific basis and is cultural, according to the company. There is only one race: the human race.
“Not one characteristic, trait or gene distinguishes all the members of one so-called race from all nonmembers,” according to the company website. “Our popular notions of race are cultural.”
UA is spending $7,300 to rent a kiosk for two weeks.
For a complete list of the UA’s Rethinking Race events, all of which are free and open to the public, visit www.uakron. edu/race/.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.