Exploring the Swarthmore Lecture 2022

14 June 2022 - 19 July 2022
19:00 - 20:30

Seeing the water

Following the 2022 Swarthmore Lecture Perceiving the temperature of the water by Helen Minnis, these five individually bookable sessions are an opportunity to look more closely at some of the issues Helen spoke of in the lecture.


Stereotypes and underdogs – Tuesday 14 June, 19:00-20:30 (UK time)

Stereotyping is a normal human phenomenon: we are more likely to negatively stereotype people who are different from us – to treat them as underdogs.  No-one wants to be treated as an underdog, but what insights do underdogs gain?

In this session, linked to the 2022 Swarthmore Lecture and facilitated by Helen Minnis, we will explore these phenomena together. Who are the underdogs in our neighbourhoods and in our society? What insights could their unique perspective bring? How do we break through our stereotypes to share those insights?

History, guilt and change – Thursday 16 June, 19:00-20:30 (UK time)

All of us are brainwashed by a global colonial history that determines who we overestimate and who we underestimate. What does this mean for us, and for the action we can take in the world? What obvious truths are we failing to discern?

“As Quakers, our apology will be hollow unless we are willing to give up some of the advantages we have gained from hundreds of years of inequality.”

This session, linked to the 2022 Swarthmore Lecture, will explore our shared history, how it shapes us today and how we can move from guilt and inaction towards building a more justice world.

Having reflected on the work she has done in preparation for the lecture, and giving the lecture, Helen Minnis is clear that exploration of this particular area is work that white people need to do, rather than it being led by people of colour. The session will be led by two members of Woodbrooke staff, Rhiannon Grant and Rachael Swancott, who have been working in this area and who have worked with Helen to plan the session however Helen feels that if she was present people may look to her for answers, or see her as an “expert”, when the reflection white people need to do is for ourselves rather than asking people of colour for the answers. Given this Helen won’t be present for this session.

Addressing the imbalance – Tuesday 28 June, 19:00-20:30 (UK time) 

Quakers are beginning to consider how we can address the inequalities that result from our past involvement in global slavery and colonialism. Alongside the 2022 Swarthmore Lecture we ask -how do we address the imbalance?

In her lecture Helen says that, as Quakers, our apology will be hollow unless we are willing to give up some of the advantages we have gained from hundreds of years of inequality. In this session, facilitated by Helen Minnis, we will have a chance to reflect on this and share our own ideas about how we might address structural inequality and injustice.

Seeing the water – Tuesday 5 July, 19:00-20:30 (UK time)

The structures around us encourage all of us to overestimate white people and underestimate Black people. Join the 2022 Swarthmore Lecturer for a session where we look to see the water we’re swimming in.

The title of the 2022 Swarthmore Lecture comes from a metaphor by David Foster Wallace: an old fish is swimming through the water and he encounters two younger fish.  “Hi guys”, he says, “hope you’re enjoying the water today”.  The two younger fish chorus “what is water”?  Black and brown people are usually the “older fish” because they are constantly forced to take stock of their place within their surroundings.  Meanwhile our caste system means that white people continue to be blinded by the comfort of the water, through no fault of their own: it is hard to perceive the temperature of the water if it was set to be exactly right for you even before you were born.  In this session Helen Minnis and Rhiannon Grant will explore ways of “swimming into chillier water” – i.e. getting out of our comfort zones – and the joys and benefits of doing so.

Anti-racist action now – Tuesday 19 July, 19:00-20:30 (UK time)

What can Quakers actually do – as individuals and as a church – to become an anti-racist faith community? In her Swarthmore Lecture Helen reflects on how there is no easy call to action, because those of us living privileged lives are unlikely to be the people who have the answers.

In this session, facilitated by Helen Minnis, we will explore how the position of our society and our Quaker community is the result of 500 years of history, and a myriad of mistakes. We will think about where some of the myriad of solutions might be found.

“The answers that we need are out there in the chillier places, probably blindingly obvious to Black and brown people who are experiencing, on a daily basis, what it means to be on the wrong side of our caste system”.

How can we find ways of getting out of our comfort zones, of really listening, so that we have our best chance of finding out what action to take? How we can work together with people who are different from us, to create a better planet for us all?

This course will involve:

DiscussionWorkshopZoom Session

Accessibility info:

On the booking form, there is a chance for you to let us know about any accessibility or communication adjustments that will enable you to participate more fully in the course. Automated Zoom closed captions are available for all live sessions but if you feel you require more accurate closed captioning please email us directly in addition to booking.

See more courses in this category: Peace & Social Justice

Addressing the imbalance

Tuesday 28 June, 19:00-20:30 (UK time)

Seeing the water

Tuesday 5 July, 19:00-20:30 (UK time)

Anti-racist action now

Tuesday 19 July, 19:00-20:30 (UK time)

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