Faculty host public Ferguson discussion
Matthew McKenna | Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Jason Ruiz, assistant professor of American Studies, and Dianne Pinderhughes, professor of political science and Africana Studies, hosted an open forum Monday on the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., to discuss the implications these events have on racial and societal issues.
Ruiz said the forum’s timeliness supplemented discussions people should have in and out of the classroom.
“I’m teaching this class, Mixed Race America, and I thought starting with Ferguson was an obvious place to start a critical exploration of race relations, and especially race relations,” Ruiz said. “I always start the class talking about ‘What is Race?’ and right now when we ask ourselves, ‘What is race?’ Ferguson is looming large in terms of the state of American race relations.”
Ruiz said perceptions of race are often skewed because of media biases — something students in the social media age are especially susceptible to.
“The one thing I hope we can do is demand better, more fair media portrayals,” Ruiz said. “That’s something I took away that we all had in common. My task as an educator is to create more savvy media consumers.”
Ruiz said the open forum style of discussion was meant to facilitate more frank discussions on the topic of race on campus.
“I think students have a lot to say, but they sometimes don’t feel empowered or like they have a critical space with faculty members to really tell us how they feel,” Ruiz said. “This is a campus that has a lot of students, faculty and staff people that are interested in issues like this and keeping the conversation going. Personally, I hope [the forum] will be the start of many conversations.”
Pinderhughes said that the very fact the forum was open and without a formal presentation gave the faculty in attendance an opportunity to see what the students were thinking about the situation.
“We were very pleased with the turnout and we had a very nice range of questions,” Pinderhughes said. “Seeing that not all the students were in agreement opened up a lot of different options for people to engage in action.”
Senior Deandra Cadet said her peers posed educated inquiries and honed in on the issue’s relevance to the University.
“A lot of people were talking about what was the next step for us that we can take to educate ourselves on these issues and also be advocates against the sort of actions that might be police brutality,” Cadet said. “I think it’s more just about what actions we can take as students.”
Cadet said the public exchange of opinions and facts on Ferguson allowed students to explore how race affects them personally and facilitate the discussion of topics of equality in their own social circles.
“I think having actual concrete conversations with different people about things that are important to your life can really bridge the gap, because you can know someone of a different race and not really know them or what’s important to them,” Cadet said.