The Multi-Cultural Center hosted its first “Let’s Talk About What’s Going On” forum on Wednesday, Aug. 31, with Police Chief Mark Iwasa discussing issues currently facing the African-American community with students and staff.
Six students and five staff members discussed topics ranging from improving communication between law enforcement and communities, the importance of voting in local elections, participating in activism in addition to protesting, what the police do on campus and conflicts between law and morality.
“I think the dialogue is good,” Iwasa said. “We always gain a little bit when we share questions about things that gives us an indication of how people view us.”
As the main facilitator of the first meeting, Iwasa discussed the campus police department and talked about the various goals he has for the department this semester, including encouraging his officers to get out of their vehicles more and communicate with students.
The open discussion was the first in a series of weekly events this semester focusing on respectful conversations about issues affecting the black community. The meetings will be led by at least one administrator, faculty or staff member.
Aisha Engle, the Women’s Resource Center program coordinator, explained that the goal of the forums is to give students a candid place to share their feelings. She asked for suggestions for a list of ground rules at the start of the meeting, writing them on a white board. The rules included not cutting people off while they’re talking and respecting the opinions of one another.
“We want to centralize the goal of the conversations and discussions around the greater forum of concerns of policing in relation to black lives and African-American students and how they are conceptualizing that when they are outside of campus, on campus [and] really being able to discern the dynamic of what policing looks like in their everyday lives,” Engle said.
The Black Student Union, which was unaware of the forum prior to the State Hornet’s inquiry, weighed in on the importance of these types of discussions.
“Whenever the dialogue opens is healthy, especially being black students on campus,” said Isaiah Alexander, vice president of the Black Student Union and a communications major. “There’s a lot of stuff going on with the police. None of that is new, but because the way technology is, everybody’s catching videos, so people who thought it didn’t exist finally get to see this really happens.”
Michael Merchant, a new member of the Black Student Union and also a communications major, said he would like to attend an upcoming meeting. Merchant said that he hopes conversations such as this one will help solve social problems.
“Obviously with everything going on in the nation right now, there needs to be positive, constructive dialogue,” Merchant said. “We know it’s going to take a long time. This has been a work in progress for hundreds of years to get not only African-Americans, but other minorities on the same plateau as, you know, let’s say, white America.”
“Let’s Talk About What’s Going On” takes place each Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Multi-Cultural Center across from the library entrance.