Student Life Editor
The SAB and Multi-Cultural Council co-hosted a “Town Hall Meeting” on Wednesday to discuss issues of race relations in light of the recent police brutality in the U.S. The conversation quickly turned into a much broader discussion about race, stereotypes and implicit bias. Questions were answered, opinions were shared and, most importantly, tough conversations began.
To open the forum, SAB’s Cultural Engagement Executive and Vice President Abigail McBride invited the panelists to introduce themselves and answer the broad question, “Why is the conversation of racism and police force important in light of the recent events?” The panelists for the night were former PA state trooper Byron Lewis, President of the Black Student Union Rachel Taylor, Residence Life Director Kevin Williams, and Messiah’s head wrestling coach, Bryan Brunk.
Rachel Taylor answered McBride’s question simply: “This is important because human rights are important.” Taylor expressed her grief toward the police shootings by explaining how her heart breaks every time someone else is killed. “That could have been my brother,” Taylor said. “That could have been someone I know.”
Kevin Williams discussed his viewpoint on raising children in a world where these situations occur, saying, “It’s easy to want to put my hands up and not want to talk about this anymore. I have a son and a daughter and thinking about the world I am pushing my children into doesn’t make me happy. A world where being white is better.” Williams asserted the need to talk about these issues in order for reconciliation to occur and invited students to start the conversation about race with him if they desired. “I accept you where you are, but I don’t want you to stay where you are. We all need to be growing,” Williams said.
The conversation then moved toward the questions the audience members had for the panelists, using anonymous notecards to give everyone an equal opportunity. The first question identified a place where people often put blame. It asked, “Do you think it is true that there is a lack of respect for police officers and their commands?” Lewis noted that he feels the responsibility lies first and foremost with the police officer to treat every person they talk to as a family member, “unless and until they [the subject] give reason not to.” Taylor also shared that different people’s mannerisms may be taken as signs of disrespect when they are not.
Another question directed to Taylor soon sparked an onslaught of open involvement of the audience and a more conversational atmosphere for the end of the meeting. An audience member asked Taylor if she had ever experienced bias on Messiah’s campus and how she deals with the situation. Taylor responded that there are situations in which she feels confrontation is not necessary: a misunderstanding, a misinterpretation or inadvertent offense: “I choose to confront things in a loving and caring way,” Taylor stated. “Sometimes I’ll say ‘Hey, maybe you should be careful how you phrase that.’ Or, ‘Hey, here’s another way you could frame your comment to avoid bias.’”
The conversation also covered topics including the way in which black people have to account for their race in the way they act, approaching the conversation outside of the Christian context, inappropriate race jokes and stereotypes, how to confront bias in others, and white privilege. Overall, it was a time to ask difficult questions and hear genuine answers, all from people who have a passion to improve race reconciliation in the U.S. As Brunk noted near the end of the meeting, “When you start to feel uncomfortable, you start to face realities.” Hopefully, the town hall meeting has inspired Messiah students to start having the difficult conversations that will make all the difference.