“Dear Black People” event invites students to an open forum

Brenna Fallows

Following the non-indictments in the deaths of two unarmed African-American men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, a nation-wide conversation on institutionalized racism, police brutality and white privilege has sparked across the United States.

Around the country, protests have taken place in major cities, with thousands arguing for the protection of all races before the law.

This discussion was brought directly to Villanova students by Black Cultural Society at the recent “Dear Black People” forum, an event that sought to engage a dialogue between concerned students on addressing the presence of these issues within our university community.

Facilitators Alicia Henry, a Campus Ministry Intern, and DeVon Jackson, a faculty member, encouraged a safe space where participants could feel free to voice their concerns to people who would listen. It was open to the entire University community, and was in turn well-attended. Compassion for these issues, as was noted, is colorblind.

The conversation began in small groups to ease into a subject that has unfortunately become hard to confront. What does black culture really mean, and how do different communities work with each other?

When the discussion was reopened to the entire room, Jackson asked attendants to contribute to a definition of community according to our own personal experiences. Participants shared words such as support, justice, family, acceptance and identity. Villanova touts these ideals of the community it wishes to provide to the student and faculty body here, but it seems that in reality, this is too idealistic.

When it came to defining the Villanova community specifically, very different words were proposed. Lacking, afraid, complacent and broken were some of the choices that exemplified the hurt, fear and anger that we may not recognize is being felt every day on this campus.

With this knowledge, the worst thing that people can do is turn away or pretend that their feelings are being misattributed to issues they would rather not confront—either because they’re uncomfortable or because they realize that they are part of the problem, too.

That’s because not talking about racism, and not recognizing how alive it still is within society, is not how to make the problem go away. In fact, in today’s age, this glossing-over of the issue is one of the top contributors of allowing racism to continue. It may not always manifest itself in the obvious, tangible ways that it has in the past, but it is far from eradicated because it has instead engrained itself in societal tendencies and ways of thinking.

With this issue, silence constitutes indifference. Those who are not affected by the events in the news and who do not feel compelled to speak out against them because they cannot relate are not excused from recognizing that there is a problem. Being able to remain unaffected is a privilege that many people do not share.

Ignorance is in many ways just as bad as denial. But it does leave room for growth and hope that through education, we can change the way that people treat each other.

Within each of us lies a natural human instinct to seek out people who share things in common with us, things like culture, lifestyle and socioeconomic background. But this conversation is awakening our culture to the realization that the worst thing for our individual growth would be to surround ourselves with like-minded people alone.

This forum was a platform to recognize those differences that we are otherwise in danger of incorrectly presuming based on stereotypes and prejudices. Many have never been victims of racism, and never will be. That doesn’t mean they can’t speak out against it nor does it invalidate the claims of others who feel it actively every day.

“We all chose Villanova,” one student remarked. “There are negative aspects, but we all chose to be here.”

We are all a part of the Villanova community, but the communities that we make for ourselves within it are not the same thing. In bringing them together like this, and truly trying to understand each other, we can begin to create an environment where people no longer have to feel afraid, excluded or misunderstood. That is the true community that we should be working towards.

Moving forward, this issue will continue to demand attention, and this forum will hopefully be one of many.

Villanova’s unfortunate reputation as a campus that is uninvolved politically will be challenged. Even students who do not occupy leadership roles at the university should take a part in this conversation and challenge others to challenge themselves.

This event proved that there is an entire network of students, leaders on campus and in the black community and beyond, who are there to listen and who want to enact change.

One student remarked that the University is improving, and we can see that this is true.

But this is just the beginning.