Diversity in the Conversation

On July 17, 2014, Officer Daniel Pantaleo strangled Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, in Staten Island, NY. On August 9, 2014, Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, MO. Grand juries did not indict either officer, both of whom are white males, sending the nation into a frenzy of anger and confusion.

Many Americans have argued that the two cases are detached from the issue of race. We must consider the evidence to the contrary, however: America is not a post-racial society. With Ferguson and similar events in mind, I would specifically like to address the issue of racial inequalities as they exist in the American justice system. The “Washington Monthly,” a nonprofit political magazine, reported in its January-February 2014 issue in an article entitled “Driving While Black” that, across the entire United States, black male drivers are three to five times more likely to be stopped or have their vehicles searched than white male drivers.

As a Latina, I have experienced such prejudice from law enforcement officials firsthand on several occasions. While driving our family minivan, my mother and father are all too often pulled over to the side of the road by leery police officers for “suspicious activity.” As a racial minority, I live in constant fear that the forces ostensibly designated to protect me – the police, the judicial system, the laws themselves – may someday cause significant psychological or even physical harm to my family.

I am thankful that Friday’s forum regarding the events in Ferguson and Staten Island provided me — and other students — with the opportunity to make sense of how we have recently seen these issues play out on a national scale. In particular, I was struck by something that Linda Carter Griffith, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development, said: we tend to surround ourselves with people who look like us and think like us, thus dividing ourselves along ideological (and often racial) lines.

The best way to create empathy and understanding between those of different ideologies, political views and races is civil and informative discussion. Friday’s forum was an opportunity for such discussion that brought together a diverse array of students and gave members of our community an important opportunity to both share and listen.

The forum had an impressive turnout – more than 300 students – and is indicative that student organizations, faculty and the administration should hold more of such events and work towards even greater attendance and participation. Of course, discussions with others who perhaps look or think differently than ourselves will be awkward, even painful at first. But they are necessary, and they are powerful and enlightening.

At the Ferguson forum, individuals were split up into several groups, each with several More Than Just a Number coordinators and faculty facilitators. At first, my group’s conversation was stilted – filled more with uncomfortable silence than insightful comments. This was not because we had nothing to say, but because we were nervous about sharing our opinions. Our student and faculty leaders pushed the discussion forward with engaging questions, however, and each of us allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, to make mistakes, to be wrong, to speak when we were moved to do so and to listen carefully to others in our group. Ultimately, I walked away with a much better grasp of the complexities presented by situations like Ferguson.

I encourage everyone to talk to others about Ferguson, even if they feel that their opinion may be unpopular, and to ask questions of others – lack of information or comprehension is just that, not an indication of stupidity. Next time the school holds a discussion, forum or panel, consider attending, even if just to sit and listen. Andover creates an intentionally diverse community for all students to benefit from and take advantage of – don’t let such efforts go to waste.

_Emily Sanchez is a Junior from Clifton, NJ._