Parents & Families

February 11, 2015

Conversation Circle Helps UW Community Discuss Ferguson Events

01.02.13 015By Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity

Around 60 University of Washington students, faculty, staff and community members gathered at OMA&D’s (OMA&D) Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center (ECC) on Fri., Dec. 5, for a special Conversation Circle to discuss events surrounding the late-November grand jury decision in the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

“The idea for the event was to create a safe space to have a profound discussion about this tragedy which is vital to the welfare of our students and the campus climate we’re trying to improve,” said Marisa Herrera, OMA&D executive director of community building and inclusion.

The format featured small discussion groups of 5-10 people. Counseling services resources were also made available.

Included among the attendees were various UW leaders including Sheila Edwards Lange, vice president for minority affairs and vice provost for diversity; Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of undergraduate academic affairs; Denzil Suite, vice president for student life; and Gabriel Gallardo, OMA&D associate vice president of student services and academic support programs. A representative from the UW Police Department also participated.

“It was really exciting to see a mixed race, intergenerational group of individuals get together,” said UW sophomore Mariama Suwaneh. “It felt good to know that someone on campus recognizes the hurt that the African American community is feeling right now. There was a level of understanding that was healing for me.”

According to Herrera, that healing was a large focus of the event, as was an open dialogue surrounding the issues.

“It was our hope that the discussions would help bind our communities in a time of need and allow us to develop some effective strategies for how to have these difficult conversations in other settings of our lives,” Herrera said. “We also hoped this would be an opportunity for us to tie into the ECC’s mission to educate, enrich and empower. I think that it struck the right note.”

Suwaneh decided to attend the Conversation Circle as a way to process her emotions. A member of the UW Black Student Union, Suwaneh said she moved “straight into action” after the non-indictments. She marched, and organized vigils and demonstrations on campus.

“But that left me really confused because I did not have time to process how I was feeling,” she said. “I hoped that the Conversation Circle would open a space where I could wrestle with my mixed feelings.”

In her group, Suwaneh said discussion centered around a variety of topics including the role that social media plays in the conversation. While being a vehicle to educate, its destructive power was also addressed. Her group talked about the roles that different generations and ethnicities play in this struggle as well.

In the end, she said, the healing she sought was found.

“It was a space for me to try and regain hope because I was honestly feeling extremely hopeless,” Suwaneh said. “It refueled me to get out on the front lines and start being an activist again. I also gained some wisdom. The older generation really put into perspective what is needed to see change. It isn’t just going to take protests, but a collective action in our institutions.”

The Conversation Circle at the Kelly ECC was one of several events that have taken place on campus to address the issues surrounding the death of Brown and the use of deadly police force against African Americans. The Department of Communication’s Minority Leaders in Communication and the Center for Communication, Difference and Equity held a panel forum on Nov. 14. The School of Law hosted a forum on Dec. 2, as did the Department of Law, Societies and Justice.

Most recently, OMA&D and the Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center collaborated with the Office of the Provost and several faculty partners (American Ethnic Studies; Anthropology; Communication; English; Gender Sexuality and Women’s Studies; History, Sociology; and UW Bothell Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences) to host a Teach-In at the Husky Union Building, Jan. 23.

UW faculty members taught sessions aimed to put the events in historical perspective, examine the challenges of taking race into the 21st century and explore the broader landscape of student and youth activists working to challenge state violence.

As the academic year goes on, these discussions will continue.

“The Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center is committed to cross-cultural dialogue that honors the experiences of everyone, but especially the voices that don’t often get heard,” Herrera said. “We are always looking for opportunities to hold space for conversations such as these.”