Racial matters: learn, discuss and make a change

“My little cousin came home and asked me how she could be white?” said a black audience member.

History, government, speech communication and other departments gathered in Fannin Hall for "Ava DuVernay’s 13th: A Community Conversation" to present the documentary. Screenings were shown last week (April 24 – 27) and on Thursday, a panel discussion was held with students to discuss the film. The forum took place with about 200 students and faculty advisers. History teachers required most pf their students to attend the forum for class, but many others showed up as well. 

The panel/discussion was led by Carter Bedford,  Rolanda Randle and Brett Wilkinson.

The students were asked to view the film before the discussion and were assured they were in a “safe space” and that they should feel free to have an open conversation no matter how uncomfortable they may have felt. Students had the option to write their questions or ask their questions anonymously. 

As LaQueta Wright welcomed students to their seats many wondered why something like this was being done and why now? 

History professor Michelle Navarro said, “Its certainly relevant especially with this presidency and [the] Black Lives Matter [movement]."

The documentary explores the racial disparities in America’s justice system. It addressed institutionalized racism and drew attention to the forces in play that divided people by race.

Navarro said, “I think people forget about the history. They say, ‘Oh, black people are just angry.’ There’s a reason why they’re angry. There’s a reason why there’s context.”

As the discussion progressed, the floor was opened up to the audience to anonymously ask questions and make comments directed to those on the panel. People were reluctant at first.  Then the lines to the mic stands lengthened. 

One anonymous student spoke of his disbelief in hidden problems. 

He addressed the audience saying, “I did not know about these things. I am white, male and American. I clearly am not any type of oppressed.”

“Why are we not taught this in elementary school or even middle school?” asked a female student as she went to say she felt the school system was failing in a major way.

Navarro described the film as “a strong emotional experience” and felt it was important for the students who may not know to be presented with this information.

One government professor shared his upbringing with the room. He confessed that growing up it was “against his religion” to be associated with black people. This church believed that black people were inferior to the whites because they bore the “mark of Cain” through the color of their skin.

The professor encouraged students to challenge their beliefs and the things they have been taught to find out the truth about their history.

The forum took the taboo topic of racism forward. People somehow found a way to express themselves and in some cases expose themselves to different ideas.

With psychology, history, political science and government experts present throughout the audience, students and staff were allowed to express themselves in a place that offered knowledge instead of criticism and force.