By CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO //
“Since the events in Charlottesville a few weeks ago – and the subsequent responses to the violence – many of us have been left feeling unsettled, dismayed, angry, or fearful,” began an email sent to faculty by Criminal Justice Professor Jen Balboni.
These events have prompted conversations crisscrossing the country.
On Wed., Sept. 6, the Curry College Community held a public forum titled “Being a College Student in Times of Civil Unrest” to discuss Charlottesville and the response afterward both on a national level and campus level.
Communication Professor Anjana Mudambi served as the facilitator of the forum while a variety of other faculty had a hand in creating discussion. Such faculty included Sarah Augusto (Sociology/CJ), Curry’s Diversity Coordinator Monique Austin, Stephanie Cappadona (Sociology/CJ), Stephanie Walker (Science/Math), Amanda Kennedy (Sociology/CJ) and Mia Khera (Psychology).
The room was arranged with seats in semi circles aligned and wrapped around one another, changing the typical configuration of a lecture or forum.
The individuals that filled the room were diverse and abundant, including Resident Assistants, Community Directors, students of all grades and majors, professors from all majors, librarians, athletes, club executive board members, Student Affairs, and a variety of others serving as one voice. The forum revolved around how students can make a variety of individuals find common ground to come together.
Those in attendance did just that simply by attending.
The room was full and diversity swirled around one another in their seats. Upon arrival, students, faculty, and staff alike were asked to take a seat and engage in discussion with the other individuals in their particular semi circle.
The prompt was simple: “How much do you know about the events in Charlottesville? How do these events make you feel?”
These conversations were loud, honest, and powerful. Professors Mudambi and Balboni almost had difficulty halting these productive small groups to begin the large group discussion.
When the group was asked to share their thoughts, feelings, and actions with everyone, a sea of hands rose up. There was no lack of communication or willingness to participate throughout the group.
Senior criminal justice major RJ Silva stated, “Undercover racism is being exposed and being deemed societally unacceptable.”
“I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner,” said senior sociology major Julia Freedman on the Charlottesville violence. “It’s not only blatant, it’s loud and proud. We can see it and we can take it out.”
With a majority of Charlottesville and groups associated with the city following incidents being subject to hate speech, the conversation turned towards First Amendment rights. Many in the room suggested that we all need a lesson on what these rights really are.
Professor Balboni explained that “a lot of the hate groups walk the line.”
The individuals associated with hate groups know the laws inside and out so that they know just how far they can go with incitement without really breaking any laws.
A question arose: “What really counts as incitement?”
Unfortunately, it is often hard to decide and it is usually up for interpretation, making laws on hate speech hard to enforce.
“What is legal is not always right,” explained Professor Augusto. “Are we going to let this idea of free speech let this messed up thing happen?”
The lack of severity in dealing with hate speech could trace all the way back to elementary school. Grade schools taught slavery and racism as just a thing that happened rather than a serious occurrence that communities still deal with in everyday life.
As freshman education major Hailey Decoffe recalled from her nonchalant lessons on slavery in grade school, she also pointed out that, “Generations glaze over the severity of what happened in history.”
The group decided that it was time to acknowledge and educate on the reality of history so that this repetition can cease.
Professor Mudambi reminded the forum, “This isn’t just about Charlottesville. This is daily life.”
So what does this mean for the students on this campus?
It’s not in the South where many state residents are free to openly carry firearms, regularly wave Confederate flags, and have monuments and buildings honoring Confederate war figures that fought for slavery.
“This is a historical moment,” pointed out Professor Kennedy. “Don’t let yourself look back in 60 years and say ‘Why didn’t I do anything?’”
Politics and History Professor Grant Burrier suggested an experiment for everyone to give a try: “Every week talk to someone who doesn’t look like you.”
Professor Burrier urged that everyone can learn about someone else’s life; try a restaurant of a culture you may not expect, go to a club meeting for a group you never would’ve thought to try before, listen to music from another culture. Learn about others; simply talk to others.
He continued that it is easy to stick with the people who look and act like you, but that is often where hidden biases begin. Unless students can experience things out of their comfort zones, trying to eradicate racism will only become increasingly more difficult.
The final conclusion of discussion is that it is time for Curry to forge a stronger community.
Throughout the evening, certain statements were welcome with quiet snaps as if to say, “I’m with you.” The more the snaps were reciprocated, the more each person began to realize how much they really have in common and how the larger goal of ending hatred in this country could start right here at Curry College.
If we could create an environment of peace, equality, and end hatred on 131 acres, then why not the rest of the world?