“Most of conversations centering around race, ethnicity and culture at Wheaton only happen within the context of Wheaton’s history and don’t take into account larger narratives,” said Hannah Garringer, a member of Solidarity Cabinet. For this reason, the Solidarity Cabinet organized a “Beyond Complacency” police brutality workshop last Wednesday to talk about police brutality nationwide and present ways in which Wheaton students can help address it.
The issue of police brutality is often in the news, but it disproportionately affects minorities. According to the Washington Post, 24 percent of individuals killed by police nationwide in 2016 were black, even though black Americans make up only 13.2 percent of the population. Some of their names are well known to many Americans — the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile caused an uproar around the country as many people perceived that they were killed because they were black.
The panel was made up of four women, all of whom are involved in social justice work. Professor Anna Lloyd, who works with the Interfaith Coalition Against Racism talked about the concept of restorative justice that she promotes with her organization in order to bring reconciliation between races. She also recently started Compassionate.com, a website geared towards teaching children everyday acts of kindness. The second panelist was Amy Pederson, a Wheaton alumna from the St. Louis City Church who described her experiences as a white activist in situations such as the Ferguson protests.
The other two panelists, Mary Blair and Cosette Hampton, are both students at University of Chicago who are involved in activism. Mary Blair, whose brother, junior Leonard Blair, attends Wheaton, is a student leader for the Organization of Black Students. Her organization focuses on making students at University of Chicago aware of issues like police brutality and provides a safe space for black students to be in community. Cosette Hamilton works with the off campus-organization Black Youth Project 100, a group which supports the future of black youths. She talked about the direct actions and legal work that her organization undertakes, including a protest at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference. While this protest resulted in several arrests, they were also able to talk to the Chicago City Council about proposed policies, including eliminating the Chicago Police gang database and expanding Chicago’s role as a sanctuary city.
At the beginning of the event, each guest talked about the work they do to mitigate the effects of racism, specifically profiling and violence committed by police, and distributed materials detailing how to get involved. The rest of the time was dedicated to a question and answer session. A question that came up repeatedly in various forms was: How can white students get involved in race-related activism? Amy Pederson shared some of her own experiences as a white activist, and she stressed that one should be willing to do the jobs that no one wants to do, instead of taking roles that are more visible. She went on to say that it is important to “use the spaces you have access to,” such as taking the opportunity of a family dinner to discuss issues of race. Blair echoed these sentiments, saying that “using your privilege” is very important, but it is also important to “not take up space that isn’t for you,” and listen instead of speaking first.
“The purpose of this event was to to challenge students who are already involved in these conversations about these topics to take the next step and learn how to initiate organizing on Wheaton’s campus, and get connected to activists involved in larger resistance movements,” Garringer explained. “Because this event was focused on challenging students who already possess a comfortability with topics surrounding injustice in the policing system, we anticipated a smaller turnout.” While Solidarity Cabinet estimated an attendance of 10-20 people, they were delighted to see that double that amount of students attended the event. However, Garringer also cautioned attendees to remember the purpose of the event: “While the turnout for our event, and the questions asked of the panel were encouraging, it really means nothing unless Wheaton students actually make an effort to move beyond complacency and actually mobilize to fight systemic injustice issues.”