Ferguson ‘Conversation Circles’ facilitate faculty, staff discussions on deeper, long-term local issues
Faculty and staff discussed issues surrounding events in Ferguson in the third of a three-part discussion series called “Conversation Circles” on Wednesday night.
“Conversation Circles” was a series of one-hour open discussions for faculty and staff coordinated by the Office of the Provost, the Gephardt Institute for Public Service and the Office of Human Resources. The first and second discussions occurred on Aug. 28 and Sept. 3.
Ferguson, Mo., a city 20 minutes north of Washington University, became the site of a series of violent confrontations between protesters and the police following police officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. On Aug. 25, hundreds of students, faculty and staff marched silently around campus to protest in solidarity with Brown and victims of racial profiling and police brutality.
Rochelle Smith, assistant provost and director of diversity, summer programs and community outreach for the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, coordinated the third discussion to address the questions, “What can we do now?” and “What do we do now?”
“Knowing these things will happen again, [we can] move off of the conversations to take action,” Smith said.
The University administration has met the nearby Ferguson unrest by establishing Wash U Voices, an online forum to open up conversation with the University. On Aug. 28, the University-wide panel discussion “Race, Place, and Violence: A University-Wide Dialogue about Michael Brown” convened to facilitate a dialogue between the Wash. U. and St. Louis communities.
Jessica Wilen, Mosaic Project coordinator, believes that the University community has the resources and infrastructure to have an active role in discussing these issues.
“I think we have people on campus who are creating space for dialogue,” Wilen said.
Despite encouragement by the University, Mark Smith, associate vice chancellor and director of the Career Center, understands that students may not be inclined to discuss race issues on a regular basis. “I think it’s difficult to have hard conversations [about] these race issues,” he said. “It’s kind of heavy for lunchtime [discussions].”
“The more we can have the conversation, [the more] we are going to start taking the barriers down,” Mahendra Gupta, dean of the Olin Business School, said.
While there have been many initiatives to have a dialogue about Ferguson, Gupta emphasized that the recent events in Ferguson are not the only instances of such issues.
“These are deep issues,” Gupta said. “Events like Ferguson, they just [are the] boiling point of some of the deep issues…You cannot address that by not having continuous conversation. Just a reaction, our reaction, to the event…will not address the deep root causes.”