In response to the racist attack against Gonzaga’s Black Student Union (BSU) and the requests of BSU members for the GU community and administration to take action, a virtual listening session was held on Zoom today from noon to 1 p.m. 

Annmarie Caño, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, hosted the listening session. After reciting a land acknowledgement, Caño opened by saying the purpose of the listening session was to listen and to center and validate the experiences of students of color.

Caño set ground rules for the listening session, including not interrupting when someone is speaking, for white-passing people who experience feelings of discomfort to sit with that feeling and not jump in and recognizing that it is not the responsibility of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) community members to do all the work to make changes.

“It’s the responsibility of all of us to listen, to really hear, and to act,” Caño said.

Caño introduced two counselors from the Center for Cura Personalis as an option for anyone to reach out to and introduced the facilitator and listening session moderators.

Bernadette Calafell, the chairperson of critical race and ethnic studies, facilitated the listening session.

The session moderators included Shalon Parker, chairperson of the art department and former BSU advisor, Jamella Gow, assistant professor of sociology and criminology, Raven Maragh-Lloyd, assistant professor of communication studies, Forrest Rodgers, assistant professor of sociology and criminology and Itohan Idumwonyi, assistant professor of religious studies.

Calafell began the listening session by asking, “What does it mean to feel safe on the GU campus, in person and virtually?”

The participants who responded said students of color want to simply exist like their white peers and faculty, without feeling like they have to always be resilient. They also said feeling safe means not having to feel as if they are representing an entire group of people and not needing to change how they express themselves to be able to fit into the community.

One student who answered the question said professors were avoiding discussion of what happened to BSU last week and asked that faculty acknowledge these students’ experiences.

Maragh-Lloyd summed up the answers to the first question before reading out the second question, “What does it mean for the campus community (faculty, staff, peers, others) to really care about Black lives on campus? How have people shown that they care?"

Participants responded to the question and said that there has not been enough space for conversation, that the university is doing the bare minimum to acknowledge what has happened and that there needs to be more accountability on campus, including for faculty to take a diversity training.

“Not wanting to participate in a diversity training speaks VOLUME to your privilege and your ignorance,” said Italia Mumphrey, in the chat function of the listening session. “Experiencing being uncomfortable for three hours is nothing in comparison to feeling uncomfortable throughout your whole life just for being who you are. It's absolutely unacceptable.”

Calafell took a second to hold a moment of silence before asking, “How do people show themselves to be trustworthy?”

In response, participants said listening to understand, recognizing when you don’t understand something and being willing to learn and continued efforts from the university to make changes.

“Start showing up for that work and really being an ally in action, not just with words,” said Michael Larson, a student who participated in the session.

“A singular listening session is good, but must continue,” said Phillip Tyler, crime prevention and education officer for Campus Security and Public Safety, in the chat box. “A singular email, with standard (4) signatures, is good but we need many voices and advocates, and particularly faculty, whom we see and interact with the majority of our time.”

The last question Calafell asked in the listening session was “What does solidarity, a word often used at Jesuit universities, mean to you?” She acknowledged what had already been said, and asked the participants if there was anything else they felt the faculty needed to hear.

Responses included creating a space for students, faculty and staff to learn about oppression and the experiences of marginalized groups, avoiding performative solidarity and for students and faculty to take the time to educate themselves.

The participants also said they hope that the conversation will continue, for the community to acknowledge these issues and for white allies to have conversations with their friends or people they know who might be ignorant of these topics.

“It’s not speaking up only in public but speaking up in private as well,” said student Kehau Gilliland, via the chat. “It’s calling people out on their ignorance and lack of education on racial injustices.”

Caño concluded the listening session by expressing her gratitude for those who attended, especially Black students who shared their thoughts and experiences and for faculty who attended and helped with the event.

She also acknowledged the staff’s experiences, reiterated what she heard in the session and encouraged all participants to reflect on the following three questions: "What is something I need to stop doing based on what I heard today? What is something I need to start doing? What is something I need to continue to do?" 

Caño also said she would follow up with some of the participants about what was said and is working on a resource page that will include steps for taking action and ways to start or continue learning about these issues and experiences.

Lillian Piel is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @lillianpiel. 

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