When the news came out about the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion’s plans to hold a meeting to discuss the Trayvon Martin shooting, the event became a controversy almost immediately. In an e-mail she admits was poorly worded, Sociology Professor Sue Dargan called the shooting a “state-sanctioned murder,” and a heavy dose of criticism about the planned event and about Framingham State erupted.
At issue was the committee’s apparent insistence on exacerbating the race-related aspects of the Martin case, at a time when racial tension surrounding the issue has been rising daily. During a show on 96.9 WTTK Boston Talks, conservative radio host Michael Graham said the committee was only adding to what has become a national controversy built in part upon people’s racial biases. But yesterday’s event, stripped of the theatrics of a hoodie march and a perceived protest spirit, certainly did not do that, and was a model for the ways in which academic discussions about large-scale issues out to be carried out.
Members of the FSU community brought a range of perspectives to the issues in a venue where they did not feel uncomfortable bringing up their conflicted feelings about the Stand Your Ground laws, or sharing contrasting opinions about the role of racial profiling. The issues at the core of the Trayvon Martin case are not so easy to define that people should adhere rigidly to one set of preconceptions or another, and the openness and sophistication of yesterday’s discussion was a refreshing break from the day-to-day hyperbolic news coverage to which we seem to have grown accustomed.
The Diversity Committee should be commended for making FSU a venue to take part in what has become a national conversation about exactly what happened, why it happened and what ought to be done to prevent it from happening again. What is important is not just the answers to those questions, but also that we seek them civilly, and with as little politically divisive, hateful, or dismissive language as possible.
While each of the contributors to the open forum shared his or her thoughts, the audience listened patiently and respectfully, considered statements made and then politely agreed or disagreed. We should be trying to learn from one another while searching for information, establishing contexts and structuring analyses of events instead of trying constantly to win arguments or bully opponents into submission.
Dargan’s subjection to an on-air berating and, later, to an unexpected series of hateful e-mails, was certainly unfair and unfortunate. And Graham’s attempts to sully the reputation of Framingham State and shame its faculty were uncalled for and unproductive. But now that the proverbial dust has settled, the FSU community should be proud of the event that took place.
The most important lesson we should take from this is that no one can claim the moral high ground on divisive national issues – not faculty, not legal analysts and definitely not media personalities. As an institution of higher education and as a society, we benefit most from open and inclusive analyses whenever the opportunities to do so present themselves. Topics like prejudice, gun control and injustice are politically and emotionally charged issues, and the FSU community’s ability to dissect them in a civil and respectful manner is an accomplishment worth celebrating.