Gatherings planned to deepen understanding of issues underlying events in Ferguson

Staff event, open forum scheduled for first week of semester

The events in Ferguson have forever changed our nation, our region, our neighbors.

Programming on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis is beginning this week with two events — the first of many — that will explore the roots of the unrest, support community members who have been impacted and develop meaningful ways to respond.

“Everyone in the Washington University community is looking for an outlet for support, a place to talk, a place to think about what they can do,” said Robin Hattori, assistant director of the Gephardt Institute for Public Service. “This week, those important conversations get started.”

The first event, a roundtable exclusively for staff, is being hosted by the Campus Diversity Collaborative (CDC), an organization of faculty and staff devoted to increasing both respect and diversity on campus.

The second event, “Race, Place, and Violence: A University-Wide Dialogue About Michael Brown,” is for students, faculty and staff.

Campus Diversity Collaborative gathering for staff

Noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27, College Hall, South 40

Hattori understands the reasons some staff members may want to avoid the Aug. 27 staff discussion. Feelings are raw; opinions are divided, and no one wants to offend a co-worker.

Here’s her reason to come anyway: “Shoving it under the carpet does not make it any better.

“We are where we are because people have trepidation about talking about this issue,” said Hattori, who serves on the CDC steering committee. “We have to confront the pain. It may be tough and uncomfortable, but we are obligated to step up and be honest with each other and try to understand each other.”

Participants are invited to read the short article “Frustration in Ferguson,” written by Charles M. Blow in The New York Times, prior to the event. Hattori said the article provides a good starting point for the discussion.

“There were any number of articles we could have selected, but what resonated about Blow’s article took a step back from the tear gas and turmoil to explore: ‘Where did this all come from, and what are the systemic issues that we as a community have yet to adequately deal with?’” Hattori said.

“Specifically, he talks about this school-to-prison pipeline, which, I think, is particularly relevant for us as an educational institution that is striving to have more diversity.”

Hattori said it will be up to participants to decide where to go next.

“When you think about civic engagement, people tend not to be satisfied with just talking,” Hattori said. “Talking is foundational; you need to find common ground. But eventually, people want to do something.

“Maybe participants will want to do a book club or collect school supplies or something else. Whatever the responses, we will support that.”

“Race, Place, and Violence: A University-Wide Dialogue About Michael Brown”

7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, May Auditorium, Simon Hall
Panel stream can be viewed live here.

The racial makeup of Ferguson police force, the legacy of restrictive zoning and the multitude of municipalities in St. Louis County — all of these local factors provide context for the Ferguson protests.

And yet, this event could have happened anywhere, said Rebecca Wanzo, PhD, associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies in Arts & Sciences and associate director of the Center for the Humanities.

“This story is profoundly important to the local community, but it is not a local story,” Wanzo said. “What makes it so painful is because it’s so familiar. It’s very painful for St. Louisans, but it’s also painful for a lot of African-Americans to know we experience excessive force all too frequently and that it takes a lot for people to care about that injury.”

Wanzo will serve as moderator for “Race, Place, and Violence.” Among the topics the panel will discuss are police brutality and militarization; constructions of black masculinity; and the history of segregation in St. Louis and the nation.

Panelists include Katherine Goldwasser, JD, professor of law at Washington University School of Law; Justin Hansford, JD, assistant professor at Saint Louis University School of Law; Bob Hansman, associate professor in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts; Jeffrey Q. McCune Jr., PhD, associate professor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and in the Performing Arts Department, both in Arts & Sciences; Brittany Packnett, executive director of Teach for America-St. Louis and a Washington University alumna (2006); and Jason Q. Purnell, PhD, assistant professor in the Brown School.

Co-sponsors are Arts & Sciences’ African and African-American Studies; American Culture Studies; Center for the Humanities; Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; the Center on Urban Research and Public Policy; the School of Law’s Law, Identity & Culture Initiative; and the offices of the chancellor and of the provost.

Wanzo said universities are in a unique position to address the challenges presented by the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.

“One of the things we (as a university community) can do is have these interdisciplinary conversations,” Wanzo said. “We’re not just in our silos. We are supposed to talk to each other and learn from another, whether it be from Hansman, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of destruction of black neighborhoods in St. Louis, to McCune, who is an expert in African-American masculinity.”

Wanzo hopes students, especially those new to the region, will come and learn that St. Louis is worth the investment.

“There have been important cases in St. Louis that are at the center of race in this country, including Dred Scott and Shelley v. Kraemer, which is about racial covenants,” Wanzo said. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t love the city or think it’s not a great place. It’s a troubled city, but it’s a good city. I don’t know a good city that is not also troubled.”