Channeling Fears and Frustrations into Proactive Accountability
As part of the event, students were asked to reflect on their thoughts and concerns about the recent presidential election. These concerns were then placed on post-it notes, and served as a centerpiece for the panel discussion. Afterwards, speakers on the panel discussed any action that their organization takes related to those concerns shared on the post-it notes, and shared ways students can get involved with their organization.
Each member of the panel discussion had a specific theme or topic they represented regarding social issues. Alex Van Gorp, former president of the Lambda Law Society at McKinney, spoke about the students’ concerns for the LGBTQ community. One of those main concerns centered on the condition of the LGBTQ community during Mike Pence’s time as Vice President. During his time as the Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence implemented the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This bill has been controversial, as one of its main consequences was protection for business owners with anti-LGBTQ views who wanted immunity from laws that forbid discrimination based on their religious convictions. An additional bill was introduced with the intentions of protecting LGBTQ people. This was signed into law on April 2, 2015. However, even while that occurred, the students of McKinney worried if Mike Pence’s time as Governor of Indiana would be replicated on a national level as Vice-President.
Ala’a Wafa, Associate Counsel at Cummins Inc., spoke about the experience of being a Muslim in America. Unfortunately more often than not, Islam has been associated with terrorism due to the actions of misguided individuals who have taken it upon themselves to commit crimes based on their personal beliefs. Ala’a Wafa emphasized instances in which a double standard has been applied to Islam and its practitioners. For example, since they were established in the late 1860’s, the Ku Klux Klan have associated themselves with the Christian faith. Throughout its history the Ku Klux Klan has engaged in murder, lynching, rape, beatings, intimidation by burning a cross and many other reprehensible acts. They targeted African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and other minority groups. However, while the group still exists today, Christians in America aren’t labeled as terrorists.
Another aspect of Islam that was brought up during the discussion was about associating religion with race. One misconception about Islam is that it is assumed the majority of its practitioners are of Middle Eastern descent. However, around 62% of the world’s Muslim population live in the Asia-Pacific region. As Ala’a Wafa asserted, Muslims aren’t bound to one specific race, and it is a mistake not to acknowledge the wealth of racial diversity within the Muslim faith.
Wanda Savala, a women’s rights activist and Community Engagement Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, spoke about feminism and reproductive rights. As Savala described, women have achieved a lot in the fight for equality. Throughout history that includes earning the right to vote and gaining access to better jobs. However, women today still have problems in the workplace. Women still have not reached equality with men in earnings. They also lack the full opportunities of being in traditionally male dominated field. As a result, when women do hold jobs in male dominated industries they are often placed in a lower positioned job.
Wanda Savala went on to speak about reproductive rights. Abortion in the United States is legal because of the Roe v. Wade case. However, individual states can restrict the use of abortion. Wanda Savala emphasized that if women don’t have control over their own reproductive choices, they are not really treated equally under the law.
Furthermore, students also shared their concerns on the re-privatization of federal prisons.. Last year in August, under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice announced that it would end the use of private prisons to house federal inmates. However, with President Donald Trump now in office there are concerns that decision may be reversed. The two most influential companies in the U.S. private prison market, CoreCivic and the GEO Group, received a stock price boost when Trump was elected. Throughout his campaign, Trump emphasized stopping the catch and release of illegal immigrants. Most of the income in the private prison market comes from imprisoned immigrants. Also, two thirds of imprisoned immigrants are sent to private prisons. As a result, depending on how President Trump attempts to crack down on immigration, private prisons could be posed to profit from it. The government can save money by using for-profit prisons, however the students of McKinney pointed out that it could have a negative effect. It doesn’t save the taxpayers money and they are less safe than public facilities.
More topics of discussion centered on the Black Lives Matter movement, the Blue Lives Matter movement and institutional racism. Throughout the past few years, it has been brought to America’s attention that there are ongoing problems between the African American community and law enforcement. Black lives have been lost at the hands of police, and police officers have lost their lives (some in retaliation of those black lives dying.) The continued occurrence of violent encounters between black men and police officers has prompted the growth of both the Black Lives Matter movement and the Blue Lives Matter movement.
Moreover, this ongoing situation of tension has had plenty of media coverage, and ultimately, given more awareness to institutional racism. Institutional racism is a form of racism that is established throughout social and political institutions, imposing insufficient conditions for minorities. One example of institutional racism can be seen through the Stop and Frisk program in New York City. This entailed the practice to temporarily apprehend, question, and, at times, search civilians on the street for illegal items. In general, 90% of the people who were stopped and frisked were innocent of any crimes. On August 12, 2013, former U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the program was unconstitutional because it targeted minorities. The majority of those stopped were African-American or Hispanic. One student of McKinney shared their concerns about institutional racism. The student said, “As an Asian, I never felt safe before Trump was elected. Now I feel even more unsafe having a President that stereotypes minority races.”
The school-to-prison pipeline was also talked about during the panel discussion. The school-to-prison pipeline is used to describe the effects of zero tolerance policies created by educational institutions. This involves using police in schools. As a result, there have been more instances in which students are sent to the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. Members of the panel viewed zero tolerance policies as a system bound to create failures for students.
There were brief discussions on other numerous topics, which included student-visas, racial problems in the black community, and environmental issues.
Other speakers of the panel discussion include Katie Blair (Director of Advocacy for the ACLU of Indiana), Mohamed A. Arafa (Adjunct Professor of Law at IU McKinney), John Clark (Professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI), and Waseema Ali (Managing Director at the Desmond Tutu Center).
The panel discussion concluded with a Q&A session for the McKinney students in attendance. The last question that was asked surrounded false statements. One student asked, “What are ways we can combat alternative facts, the spread of misinformation?” Ala’a Wafa responded by saying, “Don’t become complacent with what the internet has available. Fact check. Don’t only talk with people within your circle. Hear from people who aren’t like yourself.”
By: Wesley Bryant