By Matice Moore, Program Director, African American Student Affairs
It strikes me as no coincidence that Black History Month and Valentine’s Day share the same 28 days. Looking back at the contributions of Black people to our collective history requires us to also acknowledge the present moment, two weeks after activists all over the country worked to “reclaimMLK” and our own campus held the first ever Black Life Matters Conference. It’s a moment where major national publications are calling attention to the “crisis of policing” and various pieces of legislation are being introduced to gain some kind of understanding of the epidemic rates at which young people are killed by the police or vigilantes, and the overrepresentation of Black folks among those numbers.
A number of Black thinkers and leaders explored love as a route to guide their work for liberation. A quick google search brings up one of writer, and social critic, James Baldwin’s most famous quotes on the subject:
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word "love" here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace - not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” (From, The Fire Next Time)
Similarly, in bell hooks All About Love, she observes the definition offered by M. Scott Peck as:
“the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth...Love is as love does. Love is an act of will--namely, both an intention and an action. Will implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
And then in hooks own words: “To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients--care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.”
With the Spring semester in full swing, I think these definitions of love as a struggle and a quest for daring and spiritual growth can provide direction for our work on campus and in our nation. Prosecuting or not prosecuting police officers cannot be the only recourse for a family who loses a child through extrajudicial homicide. Clues to what other options might support families can be found in restorative and transformative justice models.
Put simply, restorative justice places the emphasis on who was harmed and how they can be restored, as opposed to retributive justice, with its emphasis on what crime was committed and how will the criminal be punished. Restorative justice as a practice rooted in indigenous traditions and cultures, is future oriented and values processes that allow hurt to be acknowledged in an effort to learn how those actions might be prevented from happening again. Similarly, transformative justice is often understood as emphasizing a process that transforms all the conditions that caused the hurt to happen in the first place.
Restorative elements might be understood as a student who receives a code of conduct violation attending educational workshops to learn how to make different choices in the future, or giving the student who was harmed in an interaction the power to determine what type of education a community needs after a racial bias incident.
A few notable examples of restorative conflict resolution can be found at Stanford and the University of Michigan. Both programs utilize trained facilitators and emphasize collaborative problem solving, dialogue, and voluntary participation. We have elements of these processes at the UA already, with the Intergroup Dialogue program coordinated by the Common Ground Alliance Project, where students are challenged to dialogue about power and identity, and to work through the resulting conflict. However, to bring some of the tools of Intergroup Dialogue to deal with conflict as it arises within the larger campus community would require a different level of coordinated effort and resources. It would be a stretch, but as Baldwin and hooks note, extending ourselves toward greater caring is a struggle and requires tremendous effort.
At African American Student Affairs, we hosted a number of dialogues last semester to allow students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to express their feelings of hurt and outrage over the legal response to the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Students in our Black Student Union staged awareness-raising demonstrations, a forum with campus police, and constantly engaged the topic on their facebook page. While it was important to have the space to voice feelings of grief, anger, and rage, this semester’s emphasis will shift to examining root causes and conditions. The showing of Fruitvale Station on February 11th will be coupled with a dialogue about perceptions of Black masculinity, while many of the events being hosted by the Black Law Students Association will engage with civil rights organizing, the use of lethal force, and other legal issues. However, we are also taking time to engage with the whole of Black experience by connecting and celebrating during events like the Black Student Union’s Skate Night Fundraiser, or through an emphasis on Feminism, pleasure, and self image during a workshop hosted by the Hip-Hop duo Colored Girls Hustle. For a complete list of events, check out our calendar!
So this February, forget the candy hearts and the hallmark cards. Instead, we can look for opportunities to acknowledge our whole experience, and to make love a verb. We can use the incidents in our nation’s most recent history as motivation to stretch ourselves toward more honest and open communication as the necessary ingredients for justice.