University holds discussion on recent Ferguson events

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University holds discussion on recent Ferguson events

A faculty member shares the highlights her group discussed and explained their choice not to take notes. 

A faculty member shares the highlights her group discussed and explained their choice not to take notes. 

A faculty member shares the highlights her group discussed and explained their choice not to take notes. 

A faculty member shares the highlights her group discussed and explained their choice not to take notes. 


Emotions were high Monday night as students and community members discussed the recent events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, last week and explored the role of the white ally in dismantling racism and violence.

Since the Nov. 24 grand jury decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson of the murder of Michael Brown, students across the nation have brought conversations about race to their campuses by protesting and holding discussion forums. 

The University of Illinois Diversity & Social Justice Education hosted an open discussion, titled “What’s a White Ally to Do,” at the University YMCA to address feelings about the recent verdict. 

“Tonight is really to provide a space for people to reflect on the events happening in Ferguson the last four months and to talk particularly in terms of race relation and racism,” said Ross Wantland, director of Diversity & Social Justice Education. 

The discussion focused on the definition of a white ally. 

“Many of us here are pissed off about what happened in Ferguson, I am not sure even if I want to be here,” said Leslie Morrow, director of the LGBT Resource Center and Ph.D. student. 

Wantland led the charge in the discussion and asked the participants to redefine the words “ally” and what it means for race relations and the community as a whole. Amnesty, openness to possibility, mindfulness of action and words were among the many things that people said in regard to what one should do.

Handouts were given to people in attendance, which listed the five qualities of a good ally: an ally listens, an ally is present, an ally opens doors, an ally takes chances and an ally gets support.

People were later broken down into discussion groups and participants shared their perspectives and personal experiences on how Ferguson or racism has impacted their lives.

“I think it’s really important (that) people, including white people, deal with white supremacy and racism, that we work with each other and push each other,” said Joe Minarik, program coordinator for the Diversity & Social Justice Education. 

The room was filled with a racially diverse group of students and adults, and many of them said they were interested in what people had to say regarding to the ruling.

“I want to be a part of any kind of campus response to Ferguson,” said Lailye Weidman, a graduate student in FAA. “It was a really great beginning, and a nice way to network and open conversation that will hopefully be continued.” 

Several participants said their main takeaway from the discussion was that white supremacy does exist and that it will be a long process for it to disappear. Discussion leaders urged white people to acknowledge the existence of race, to listen to what others have to say and to take action against racism.

Wantland urged people to get more involved with diversity and race relation-related activities or workshops on campus to raise awareness. 

“This conversation around white allyship are few and far between, and we need to increase the number of dialogue around race in our community,” Wantland said. “I believe tonight’s event will provide an opportunity to think critically about what a white ally could be and what work we have to do to come together as a community,” 

The Central Black Student Union with hold another discussion regarding race and race relations on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Florida Avenue Residence Hall in Oglesby Lounge. 

Edwin can be reached at [email protected].