Students from Sociology 304: Race and Ethnic Relations gave passersby an opportunity to engage in social activism against racial injustices. Three student groups collaborated to host the event in the Goshen Lounge, which used art and discussion as a means for creating change.
Students from participating project groups created pieces that were showcased throughout the event. According to junior criminal justice major Mikasas Waters, of Chicago, the art functioned as a way to draw others into the larger conversation.
“The art is the way to draw people in so people can look at it and then that’s why we had an open discussion,” Waters said. “That’s really it. We just wanted to bring people in to get them looking first and then listening second.”
Sophomore mass communications major Victoria Green, of Chicago, showcased a series of pieces at the event. Green said she already had made some of the pieces prior to the class but created more to better fit the theme of the event.
“I felt like some of them needed to have more relevance to the topic, which is white privilege and colorblindness, so what I tried to do was oppose both of them,” Green said.
While passersby took a look at the art, guest speaker David Whitt took the stage. Whitt ,a director of Ground Zero: Ferguson, is a long-standing member of WeCopwatch, an organization that non-violently resists oppression while watching the police and educating civilians about their rights.
According to its website, WeCopwatch seeks to make the police obsolete by teaching civilians how to no longer rely on law enforcement.
Darci Schmidgall, the SOC 304 instructor who assigned her classes the social action project, while she does not favor abolishing the police, she is grateful for Whitt’s difference in perspective being brought to the event.
“I am personally a reformist — I think we should work toward reforming the police rather than abolishing the police,” Schmidgall said. “... I respect the diverse difference of opinion, though, and am thankful for those voices to be brought in and a broader conversation to be had, because, obviously, we agree that there’s a problem, and we need to fix the problem. I don’t know that anyone has a monolithic, perfect solution, so I’m thankful for the conversation.”
Whitt said he hopes visiting SIUE will help students view situations such as Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. Holistically, he also said he hopes to further students’ understanding of the origins of social movements, as they are often not based on one incident alone.
“I think that a lot of people don’t know that a lot of these movements where people take to the streets are not just [about] that person who was killed,” Whitt said. “Like Mike Brown, we didn’t just stand up for Mike Brown. We stood up because we were tired of being harassed and attacked.”
After Whitt addressed the audience, those in attendance were asked to further the conversation by anonymously submitting questions to be answered by a panel.
Just as Schmidgall had a diverse variety of projects submitted, Schmidgall said the variety of actions her students and the greater community could take to break down racist structures are endless.
“I could go on and on with examples of what my students might do and become, but the hope is that by engaging in this activity, my students themselves will have a deeper understanding of institutional racism and a motive to engage in change, and then the community that’s coming in and engaging with my students’ work will start to be exposed to some of that same narrative,” Schmidgall said.
For more information on WeCopwatch and Whitt’s documentary Ground Zero: Ferguson, visit wecopwatch.org.