Conference workshops explain unfairness in justice system

Conference workshops explain unfairness in justice system

Did you know that students of color make up 70 percent of school arrests and referrals?

This is one of the issues that will be discussed at the first ever Black-Brown conference and brunch May 17 and 18 hosted by M.E.Ch.A. de EWU and the Black Student Union.

Jackie Vaughn, the M.E.Ch.A. political co-chair, was inspired to bring the conference to EWU after reading about a Black-Brown Summit held in Seattle for colored men. Being biracial, Vaughn understands and sees firsthand how both communities are affected.

“I thought the content that they had was great, but I’ve also been thinking how best can I help to educate my peers about the oppression that the people of color go through,” Vaughn said. “I feel that often, we’re somewhat aware of oppression but we’re not specifically aware of how it’s designed in the U.S. system to specifically oppress people of color. In our race and culture classes, that’s exactly what we look at. The power and privilege in institutional and structural racism.”

The conference will host interactive workshops that deal with racial inequalities in the educational and criminal justice system, featuring organizations such as the Smart Justice Campaign and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. There will be a screening of “Race: The Power of an Illusion” showing how race and racism are viewed in society.

“The Smart Justice Campaign looks for alternatives to incarceration, and they specifically look at groups who are marginalized, who are underrepresented and how they are disproportionately affected by our criminal justice system. The workshops are going to be facilitated by people who actually do this type of work to eliminate racism in these specific fields,” Vaughn said.

Smart Justice Campaign organizer Angela Webster will be bringing workshops called, “Hate the Game, Not the Player” and “Escape From the System” that will show students the imbalance of the criminal justice system.

“The point of this workshop ultimately is to highlight how unfairness tends to manifest itself in the current criminal justice system,” Webster said. “In practice, many citizens have a tendency to unsympathetically judge those who are struggling to navigate criminal justice system or stay out of it: Can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. In reality, we would be better served interrogating the system itself and why it’s so hard to get through or stay out of, as well as the societal structures and biases that make it possible or easier for certain communities to fall into the system than others.”

NAACP President of the Spokane chapter James Wilburn will also be a guest speaker at the conference. Wilburn, who is the Spokane School District achievement gap specialist, brings over 20 years of work with the NAACP, and he will be speaking about the achievement gap issue.

Vaughn brought the idea to Black Student Union President Satori Butler, who jumped on board immediately.

“I thought it was an amazing idea,” Butler said. “A lot of African-Americans aren’t aware about a lot of the stuff we will be learning. It will be a perfect opportunity for us all to learn what is oppressing us.”

She anticipates the information at the conference will bring both communities on the campus together and focus on the ideas of what is next for the students at EWU. “My hope is that the summit will bridge the gap between both communities and bring us together to achieve something better. I hope it makes people angry to want to start making changes,” Butler said.

Webster echoes Butler’s hope that the presence of these organizations will have students getting involved now.

“Our presence at the summit is about empowerment, primarily because policy reforms take a while to measure,” Webster said. “I’m going to be there to urge students to get involved now in what may influence your community later.”

The Black-Brown Conference will start May 17 at 9 a.m. in the PUB MPR. The brunch on May 18 will be at noon.