On Dec. 8, over 50 members of the ENC community gathered to discuss the issues surrounding Ferguson, Mo. as well as ENC’s own role in social justice issues.
The discussion revolved around Michael Brown’s death and the lack of indictment for police officer Darren Wilson, as well as other recent deaths, like Eric Garner and 12-year-old Tamir Rice. A major point of discussion during the panel was what ENC students could and should do when injustices like racism occur in the world.
Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs and Student Transitions Robert Benjamin mediated and guided the discussion. Students, faculty, and staff members brought discussion points and questions to a panel of four ENC professors. Each panelist offered personal knowledge from different areas of expertise, from historical knowledge to experience in the U.S. Justice Department, to living as a black man in America.
Many questions and topics of discussion led to one question that pointed not towards blame or present circumstances, but the future: what can we do to ensure justice in our country?
Panelist Dr. Laurie Giles commented that the justice system changes when people get involved. Citing the both women’s rights and civil rights movements, she pointed out that college students participated hugely, often primarily driving the movements.
Panelist Dr. Stacey Barker spoke later in the discussion on the subject of systematic change, mentioning that policy change can begin at a grass roots level and move its way upwards through the governmental system. Giles also pointed out that Massachusetts has an open ballot question, which is an opportunity for citizens to band together and bring issues they believe are important to the voting polls.
Panelists Dr. Ben Cater and Professor Matt Henry discussed the importance of being well-educated on the events happening around the Michael Brown case, as well as on news and politics in general. Being politically aware and active is an integral way for young adults to initiate change, Cater said.
Henry and Resident Director Julita Bailey also shared personal experiences of racial discrimination from police officers.
“I’m going to assume that I’m the only black man in the room that was pulled out of a car and frisked, just for being a black man and driving a car,” Henry shared, and in response, a black male student raised his hand in agreement.
A few students shared their uneasiness on the indictment issue, claiming that they trust the grand jury because they had access to all the evidence, while the public does not. Many expressed that for this reason, they cannot pass judgment on the Darren Wilson case specifically.
Three ENC students who attended protests addressing these issues in Boston also attended the panel discussion. Sophomore Joanna Joseph thought that it was a good starting discussion, but should not be the last time ENC addresses issues of racism.
“I thought it was informative and well-needed, although I feel as though it still felt like people had to… be careful with what they were saying so they didn’t step on people’s toes, which I felt hurt the discussion,” Joseph shared afterwards.
She also agreed with Benjamin’s concluding statement about the importance of listening to each other’s stories and narratives.
“If we don’t know what people are going through, we can’t sympathize,” Joseph reiterated.
Joseph participated in a Boston protest walk two weeks ago along with junior Alex Daniel and junior Michelee Chery. The walk began at Park Street, traveled across the Tobin Bridge and ended by TD Garden.
“It was good to see Boston so united,” Daniel said of the protest walk, “and there was a lot of white people there, and I thought that was a really good thing to see.”
“And it wasn’t just white people,” Chery added, “it was many different backgrounds, and that was really good to see that people could come together and put their differences [aside].”