Post-Ferguson course examines inequities, encourages students to mobilize and engage

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Controversy yields conversation. Conversation generates action. Action sculpts the future.  

The University of Iowa delves into these ideas with the fall 2015 course Race and Social Justice After Ferguson (HRTS:3905).

Course co-instructor Amy Weismann, associate director of the Center for Human Rights, says she and co-instructor Rachel Williams, associate professor of women's studies, had originally chosen to plan a symposium about race and social justice. Later, Weismann says, they had the idea to develop an in-depth, discussion-based course to explore post-Ferguson America.

“[Rachel] and I had both been approached by students who wanted to organize around what had happened in Ferguson,” Weismann says. “And there was clearly a lot of demand for some honest dialog and thoughtful analysis of what was happening in our country in regard to criminal justice and race.”

Sabra Cacho, a UI junior and founder of the new student organization Various Identities Born Equal (VIBE), says the course opened her eyes to the injustices of the criminal justice system. However, she says it is impossible to relieve these wrongdoings without the public’s willingness to interfere. 

“There are a lot of issues to talk about here at the university. There could always be more done, but we’re heading in the right direction, and I think we are becoming more aware of things that are affecting student life and all of the students of different identities here.”
—Marissa Gordinier, UI junior

“It’s not going to just randomly show up one day like, ‘Oh, these are ways you can be better on the University of Iowa campus.’ You have to search out for it. You have to go start your own things. You have to go find those people who also have that fire in their belly and say, ‘I want equal funding. I want equal representation. And I want to be treated fairly on this campus,’” she says.

Weismann says she encourages her students to extend their efforts past solely race-related issues and engage with other social justice concerns, such as economic inequality and sexual discrimination. Ultimately, she says, her goal is to remind students these issues are not only global, but also local.

“We have not fully realized our potential as a campus to be a just campus,” Weismann says. “I think it’s extremely important that we take this moment, this year, to think about these issues—and then set about doing something about them as a campus community.”