The Mills community recently held a campus dialogue and student-led vigil to respond to the death of Michael Brown, a Black man who was unarmed when he was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
After his death on Aug. 9, outcry against police brutality towards communities of color gained international attention. The purpose of the dialogue at Mills, according to Dr. Maggie Hunter, the associate professor of sociology and faculty fellow of the provost office, was to “engage the Mills community in a broader discussion about racism and police brutality.”
The event, which was sponsored by the Office of the Provost, Office of Student Activities, Black Women’s Collective, ethnic studies department, and Social Justice Resource Center, commenced with Sabrina Kwist encouraging the audience to participate and heal.
Kwist, the director of Engagement and Inclusion in the Division of Student Life, then introduced Hunter, who provided context for the death of Brown. She outlined a history of state violence and institutional racism. Hunter likened his death to lynching, a murder that is public by design, in order to terrorize and control people of color.
After Hunter’s presentation, attendees discussed the need for allies to be accountable, as well as personal experiences with institutional and interpersonal racism. They raised questions about what needs to change to stop another death such as the one in Ferguson from happening.
Dr. Ajuan Mance, professor and co-chair of the English department, presented her art, which aims to elevate discourse about Black men. Her “secular saints,” as she calls them, are depictions of men like Brown who have been lost to racist violence. Not all of her drawings are ‘saints’: she has drawn over 700 black men, some of whom are still living.
After the discussion, people carried candles from the Student Union to the campus chapel. Joyelle Baker, a junior and president of the Black Women’s Collective who was officiating the vigil, emphasized the power of community to foster healing. She also distributed note cards for people to write their reactions to the event.
Some note cards were taped in the chapel to a sign that read #JUSTICE.
“I feel safer knowing many more people care about Black lives,” read one notecard.
Another read, in bold block text, “DISCOMFORT IS APPROPRIATE. LET THE ANGER AND SADNESS FUEL THE PASSION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AND REMIND US OF THE URGENCY. BUT DON’T LET IT STOP THERE.”
Erin Clark, a sophomore and member of the Social Justice and Diversity Committee, said that the event was impactful and moving, but also that the discussion should have focused less on individuals and more on systems of oppression.
“We need to think about how much space we take up and what we feel entitled to,” Clark said. “For people who are Black and white, there was too much of a focus on ‘me.’ It’s not about Black bodies and white shame. It’s about systematic racism. It’s about making active efforts to unlearn and heal.”