The deaths this week of two black men at the hands of police reignited heated debate nationwide concerning police brutality. And Thursday night, an attack on police at an otherwise peaceful protest in Dallas killed five officers.
An open forum Friday at FIU offered students and staff an opportunity to reflect on recent events, share grief and discuss how to address the prevalence of institutional racism and violence in our society.
“We’re here because we’re very angry,” said President Mark B. Rosenberg. “We treasure civility and we’re losing it in our country.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Lunsford noted the forum took place just three weeks after the FIU community gathered for a vigil honoring the 49 lives lost at a shooting in an Orlando nightclub.
“In times of human tragedy we long for the support of our community,” said Lunsford. “FIU, we must stand together as a community. We must be a community that listens to one another, allows members to share their pain and supports one another.”
Students and staff voiced their feelings about issues like public safety for people of color and the use of excessive force by police.
Junior information technology major Tyrone Giffrard said the current atmosphere in this country makes him feel uneasy and afraid.
“Every day you see this person got killed, that person got killed. You just never know. You could be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Giffrard said. “The police officers are quite friendly on campus, but you just don’t know when it’s going to be your last breath.”
Giffrard, a young black man originally from Naples, Florida, said recent events have made him feel afraid to leave his dorm. But he is grateful for the counseling and other resources available at FIU to help him cope.
“When I’m like this, I don’t get any studying done,” he said. “You’re anxious. You’re stressed out. I’m glad we have resources here.”
Cheryl Nowell, assistant vice president for counseling and health services, encouraged students to reach out to Counseling and Psychological Services for help coping with grief or anxiety.
“We hope to provide a safe place to vent and plan, to dialogue, to rest and reflect,” Nowell said.
Asim Pleas, an account manager at the Center for Leadership, recounted a conversation he recently had with his 19-year-old son about the reality of being a black man in a society plagued by racism.
“It is very hard for me to tell my son how to navigate his life and how to be vigilant around his circumstances without giving up who he really is,” Pleas said. “I think what helped me is to recall what my father would teach me growing up—how to think and be intelligent, how to maneuver. But at the same time, it was very disheartening that I had to have that conversation with my son.”
Senior communication arts major Jeffrey Warner painted a picture for the audience of what it feels like as a young black man to be pulled over by police:
“Think about when animals see vultures in the sky. They know death is around. A wild animal seeing vultures is how we feel hearing sirens. It’s a release of hormones that’s like fear, like ‘get away.’”
Warner said his dad frequently texts him to make sure he’s okay, fearing for his life simply because of the color of his skin.
Student Government Association President Alian Collazo called for political action, encouraging students to write to their representatives and demand change.
“We as individuals have power. Often time we just forget we have that power,” Collazo said.
FIU Chief of Police Alexander Casas said that recent events must galvanize the community, not divide it; and he said the FIU Police Department will continue to create safe venues that enable open dialogue at the university.
“Please remember that we are a resource to you,” said Casas. “Anything you need—input, advice, a sounding board, help in planning, please reach out to us so that we can continue to help you and continue to enable this environment that we so much care for.”
Said Lunsford, “We must be a community that welcomes open and respectful dialogue. We must be a community that speaks up and speaks out against all forms of violence and abuse. We must be a caring community.”