Though demonstrators calling for an end to police brutality covered the Diag in December and marched to Ann Arbor City Hall in January, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is now taking center stage as part of a new class in the Residential College.
In response to the deaths of two unarmed Black men in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, New York at the hands of police officers, the Residential College has developed a seminar-style mini-course titled “Black Lives Matter.” The course is designed to give students a space to share their concerns and frustrations over recent incidents of police violence.
Charlie Bright, acting director of the Residential College, said the program originated during a meeting of faculty in the Residential College’s Social Theory and Practice major. Several of the faculty noted the significant amount of emotion their students expressed incidents related to police brutality .
Following a grand jury’s decision not to press charges against the Ferguson officer who shot and killed an unarmed Black man, students held a vigil on the Diag and later organized a “die-in” in front of the Crisler Center after Winter Commencement.
“There was a realization among us that an interdisciplinary program like ours had resources and perspectives to bring to bear on the issues raised, and the learning community of the RC had the framework to foster a thoughtful conversation about the concerns students shared,” Bright said.
LSA freshman Darian Razdar, a student in the class, said the course incorporates many different subjects, including socioeconomic class, environment, policing and colonial history.
“Through it, I feel that everyone that participates learns about the historical and methodological underpinnings to many intersections of the Black Lives Matter movement; I know I have,” Razdar said.
The course began in February and will end in April, culminating with a panel discussion involving University President Mark Schlissel and LSA Dean Andrew Martin. The panel will allow students and faculty to discuss the University’s plans to improve inclusion and diversity on campus — topics that have been a focus of campus conversation in the last two years. In November 2013, members of the University’s Black Student Union launched the #BBUM Twitter campaign —which garnered national recognition— to allow students to share their experiences as Black students on campus.
Each session focuses on a different sub-topic, organized to encourage discussion among students. The four course sessions to date have each dealt with a different aspect of racial inequality in contemporary society.
The first half of each class in the course includes a presentation given by a Residential College faculty member and a guest speaker. Lectures so far have included “Police Violence in Black America: Past and Present” and “Bad Jobs, Black Lives and Young Workers.” After the presentation, students break into smaller groups to discuss the material and reconvene as a class to report back on their conversations.
Razdar said the course empowers students, community members and experts in the field to all learn from each other.
“Most of all I will take with me powerful knowledge which I can use both in my studies and activism,” he said.
In an interview with the college’s blog, LSA Today, LSA junior Gina Goldfaden said she enrolled in the course because she wanted to discuss issues surrounding inequality with a wide range of people.
“I enrolled in the course because I wanted the opportunity to have an extended dialogue on race, discrimination and social inequities with other students,” Goldfaden said. “The collaboration between a wide range of people from, in and around the University made me feel as though everyone was welcome to learn, share and discuss.”
Bright said the class aims to open the floor for student discussion, rather than provide answers to problems.
“We’ll discuss the problems raised by police violence and of the reactions of undergraduates — their fears and frustrations in trying to grapple with the implications they see in these incidents of police violence,” he said.