Connect 4 roundtable addresses student response to Mothers bar
Following the town hall forum on the Mothers bar incident held two weeks ago, student group Connect 4 hosted a roundtable on Monday to create task forces for addressing racial discrimination and profiling on campus and to bring greater awareness of diversity issues to the student body. The student group hoped to focus the current energy sparked by the Mothers bar incident on creating long-term action plans for making positive change on campus and in the surrounding community.
The 25 or so students who attended the roundtable split into committees devoted to specific areas of campus life, including Washington University Police Department (WUPD) affairs, on-campus student awareness, Residential Life, student group interaction and off-campus affairs.
Students in the taskforce on WUPD affairs debated whether some students’ allegations that WUPD officers approach black students more than white ones means the officers are guilty of racial profiling.
While the group did not reach a conclusion, group members agreed that reports of suspicious activity filed by students against other students are a major contributor to WUPD stopping black students more often.
Members of the group said they would like to initiate dialogue between WUPD and students regarding methods of identifying suspicious persons, and also explored the idea of a “walk in your shoes” orientation program in which students would learn about the differences that race makes in daily life.
The “on-campus awareness” taskforce was primarily concerned with the issue of self-segregation in the student body. Group members said they hoped to break down what they termed the “fishbowl” phenomenon: a tendency for important conversations about race issues to remain confined to racially or ethnically homogenous groups.
“I know that as an African American male I have particular conversations with other African American males on campus that pretty much we keep amongst ourselves,” said senior Regis Murayi, one of the six black students rejected from Mothers bar.
The task force proposed mediating conversations about self-segregation on freshman floors. Members of the group also plan to develop initiatives to draw a greater and more diverse body of students to events like Monday night’s roundtable to engage students who might otherwise be uninvolved in the dialogue about diversity issues.
Like the on-campus awareness task force, the ResLife committee offered a plan to spur more diversity dialogue on freshman floors by designing special programming to be led by residential advisors. Group members also planned a conference with Residential Life about making ethnic and racial diversity a priority when forming freshman floors.
The student group interaction taskforce envisioned working with Student Union to create an incentive program that rewards collaboration between student groups. It also proposed the development of a multicultural retreat in which students from diverse backgrounds would bond over a variety of recreational and discussion-based activities.
Members of the off-campus taskforce expressed a desire to raise awareness of racial and class implications of policy decisions behind recent MetroLink service cuts. The taskforce hopes to launch a visual campaign to make the faces of St. Louis residents affected by the service cuts more visible to students.
Senior De Nichols, co-president of Connect 4, said her group would facilitate further meetings of the taskforces created at Monday night’s roundtable to lay out more concrete action steps. The organization hopes that this event will be a first step in empowering passionate students to turn thoughts into action.
Said junior Wanda Savala, Connect 4’s other co-president, “[Students] will start something but they don’t really feel supported. We need to rally those students who are doing something, who have ideas.”
The turnout for the roundtable was short of Connect 4’s expectations, paling in comparison to the more than 300 students who filled Lab Sciences 300 for the town hall meeting.
The large gap in the turnout between the town hall meeting and Monday’s roundtable elicited concerns from some that the enthusiasm exhibited by the general student body in recent weeks will not last as the Mothers bar incident fades into the past.
“[The turnout] kind of made me question how passionate, how committed students are to affecting change in this area,” Nichols said.
Nonetheless, she said she was confident that a smaller group of students would continue to converse and act on race and diversity issues.
“Quite honestly, I am a very optimistic, faithful person,” she said. “The rational side of me says that people are gonna let this die, but I think we have a committed body of students who won’t let this die out.”