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Human Race Machine worth a look

Aleesha Larsen, a student at Bemidji State University, uses the Human Race Machine located in BSU's Hobson Memorial Union to find out what she would look like as a different race. Shown on the computer screen is her face as an Asian ethnicity. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams

What would you look like as a person of a different race?

A computer at Bemidji State University can answer this question and give people a unique diversity experience.

Though Feb. 23, the Human Race Machine at BSU will allow people to have their pictures taken and see their faces as different races, as an older age or with simulated facial irregularities. The machine can also combine photographs of men and women to see what their future children might look like.

The computer is available, free of charge, for public viewing from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays in BSU's Hobson Memorial Union, next to Java City.

The makers of the Human Race Machine claim the genetic makeup, or DNA, of any two humans is 99.97 percent identical and that all humans, regardless of skin color, are all one race - the human race.

"It takes a look at the idea of social construct of race and why it doesn't make sense," said Chinwuba Okafor, associate director of the Hobson Memorial Union. "It gives people a chance to put themselves in a different place and imagine what they would look like as another race and reflect on what their life story might be."

Okafor said he was the first one to try the machine after it came to Bemidji. He admitted to feeling a little "unsettled" when he first saw his face on the screen.

"You kind of get so used to seeing your face, not juxtaposed as something else," he said. "On some level, I rejected it, but it still caused me to think like, 'I'm an African American man. If I was an Asian, how would my life experience change and make me into a different person?'"

Okafor said he hopes the Human Race Machine will get people thinking about how similar they are to one another.

"Often the dialogue on race is how much we're different," Okafor said. "This shows how alike or how similar we are to each other. We are a lot closer than anyone realizes we are."

BSU student Aleesha Larsen tried the Human Race Machine for the first time Thursday afternoon with two other peers.

"Has this been here all day?" she asked.

She was surprised to learn it would be at BSU for a few more days.

Sitting in the machine's booth, she waited as the computer took a photo of her face. Then, using a joystick, she clicked the corners of her eyes, nose and mouth and the center of her chin, as directed by the computer.

Then she was given the option to choose whether she wanted to see herself as White, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Indian, Black or Asian.

She chose Asian. Her peers in the room gasped and giggled when her face changed on the computer screen.

"Oh my gosh!" Larsen said as she saw her new look. "It definitely widens my face a little bit. That's so neat!"

After choosing all the race options, Larsen said she could see more of herself in the black race option. She said seeing herself as an Indian was the most drastic change of all the race options.

Larsen and her peers, Nick McVenes and Katie Warmbold, all agreed they never thought they would have the opportunity to see themselves as a different race. They also said they enjoyed using the computer.

Teachers are encouraged to bring their students to the Human Race Machine, as there are videos and educational materials that can be used in conjunction with the machine.

For details, contact Okafor at 755-2713.