Volume 97 Issue 4 News

PACS class travels to Ferguson, Missouri for event

by Taylor Smallwood

Organizing for Social Change, a Peace and Conflict Studies class, recently flew to Ferguson, Mo. for an event held by The Truth Telling Project to raise awareness of current racial injustices.

The class was split into separate committees, each having different roles for the series of events. Senior Adrienne Ballreich said, “We’re doing all of the media recording and social media aspects about it. We’re going there as listeners. We’re not participating or speaking or anything like that. It’s not our role to do that.”

Other roles of the class included recording the panel at the event and organizing the transportation and lodging for the travelers.

The event is called the Truth Initiative. David Ragland, assistant professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, said, “The Truth Initiative is mostly based on truth and reconciliation, but focused specifically on the voices of the victims being heard.”

“[The Truth Initiative] is the beginning of a series of events that’s going to go on for a year. They will all essentially be hearings, testimonials and people putting their experiences down for the public record, because we can’t trust the media to tell our story. And there’s a sense of empowerment when people tell their own story,” said Ragland.

The Truth Telling Project relies on social media to spread awareness. “We think social media is super important in getting awareness that this is happening out,” Ballreich said. “That’s how the majority of the populace will look and find out about this sort of thing.”

In preparation for the event, the class has been discussing truth commissions since the start of the semester. “The Truth Telling Project is only a quasi-truth commission because the conflict is still going on, and some of the elements of traditional truth commissions like government involvement are not involved with the Truth Telling Project. The Truth Telling Project is just having the awareness put out that this is happening to people in the United States,” said Ballreich.

The class also dealt with aspects of social movements and making changes in society. “The class is really focused on teaching students the ins and outs of organizing by having them engage in organizing. Part of it is learning about what is takes to organize, particularly in the midst of social movements,” Ragland said. “Our goal is to spread the word and get people connected with experiences of other humans. I think they’re not going to forget this effort because it has such lofty goals in terms of beginning conversations so we can change our society.”

Ragland made the decision for the class to help with the event because he is on the steering committee of The Truth Telling Project. He said, “We raise money and speak on the behalf of the organization. I’ve been involved with conceptualizing the direction of the organization, and gathering research just to implement the project itself.”

Ragland became involved with the event because he is from the Ferguson area and because of his desire to change the injustice issue. “My own research is focused on ‘what can we do here?’ We always look abroad, but we never look in our own backyard in terms of dealing with conflict,” he said. “That’s my particular focus, especially being from that community.”

The students and Ragland also arranged for a group of five activists from Ferguson to come speak at Juniata College at the beginning of Nov. The panel shared personal experiences of the Ferguson protests and police brutality, and answered audience questions.

One activist, Krissy Hendricks, shared a video she took of herself and others being tazed by police for walking on the street in Ferguson. “That’s something no one likes seeing, but I think it was necessary for her to show that to kind of give people a slap in the face of reality,” Ballreich said.

Ballreich had mixed feelings about the trip to Ferguson. “I’m excited to sit back and listen. I’m excited to go. My worry is kind of stepping on people’s toes. I’m actually nervous that someone will confront me and ask, ‘Why are you here?’” said Ballreich.

Not everyone believed this situation would not happen. “People are going to appreciate the students being there,” Ragland said. “You can tell the difference between someone who wants to come and do their own thing versus someone who wants to come to learn, wants to see what’s happening, and wants to see how they can help.”

The protesters from Ferguson answered questions regarding how and why students should get involved with the issue. Ballreich said, “I feel that us being human, everyone deserves the same respect, the same justice. I feel that the African-American population does need justice in the United States.”

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