Faculty Point To ‘Selma’ As Model For Discussion Around Race

Students are not taught to question racism, Susan Michalczyk, the co-chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee said at a screening of Selma Thursday night. They need to learn to engage in dialogue, rather than saying nothing or using acts of violence to combat inequality, she said at the screening, which was followed by group discussion about racism.

The event was sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee, FACES, Film Studies, the African and African Diaspora Studies Program, and the Black Faculty Staff Administrators Association. The aim of the event was to open up dialogue among students, faculty, and administrators about race, Michalczyk said.

“This is everyone’s problem, not just the minority’s—the majority has a responsibility to fix the problem.”

Michalczyk said that the MLK Committee feels the need to educate undergraduates on King and his nonviolent approaches to eradicating racism, pointing out that they did not live through his time, as many of the faculty did.

After watching the movie, the students gathered into small groups to discuss their reactions. Members of FACES led the group discussions. Certain participants mentioned that the issues raised in the movie continue to live on 50 years later. One example raised was the events in Ferguson that occurred last year.

Students then returned to the center of the room to have a larger discussion. They talked about the fact that racism still exists in places where people have good intentions, using Boston College as an example.

One student explained the importance of believing that racism exists at BC before you can see it. She said once you understand that there is racism on campus, you will notice its presence.

During the discussion, several students also mentioned that living in the Northeast, Bostonians tend to believe that they are not racist or that racism does not exist here. This belief can be traced back, students suggested, to their elementary school education where they learned that during the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement, the people of the North were the “good guys.”

In Selma, media coverage played a large role in spreading awareness on racism. In response, those in attendance discussed a lack of minority representation in the media today.

The sponsors of the event chose to show Selma because of its message of combating injustices through nonviolence and conversation, Michalczyk said.

The film also showed people of all different races, religions, and backgrounds joining together to combat racism.

“That’s the goal,” Michalczyk said. “This is everyone’s problem, not just the minority’s—the majority has a responsibility to fix the problem.”

The issues at BC last year surrounding racism, Michalczyk said, were microcosms of the national tensions, including the high-profile shootings of two unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island. Michalczyk also pointed to the isolating snow days as a cause of the issues. She believes that because of the snow, students were less available to engage in meaningful conversation with one another.

Michalczyk called for students to look to King’s teachings on nonviolence and listen to each other’s points of view.

“We need to see the other as the ‘self,’ not as different,” she said.

Conversation is a middle ground where we can all meet to discuss hot topic issues, Michalczyk said. This is an important skill to have after graduating BC, she added.

The large turnout for the Selma viewing and discussion demonstrates the fact that students want to have these difficult conversations in welcoming, non-threatening environments, Michalczyk said.

The MLK Memorial Committee plans on hosting more events this year, including a panel discussion centered around Luther’s teachings. Michalczyk reiterated, however, the importance of having these conversations on a daily basis.

“Just because we have a black man in the White House doesn’t mean the struggle is over,” she said.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Staff

November 9, 2015