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A wide range of disciplines and programs at JMU address the historic and ongoing manifestations of racism, racial inequality and injustice in higher education and society. Antiracism and social justice education can equip students with knowledge and skills to analyze, understand and intervene in systems of oppression in order to create a more equitable and just society and democracy.

Photo: JMU Chapter of the NAACP leads a march through campus on June 12, 2020.

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Ending Systemic Racism at JMU Virtual Discussion

The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and George Floyd have brought attention to the racist policies and systems that engender violence (both sudden and systemic, physical and attitudinal) against Black people in the United States. The current protests are not just in response to these most recent killings – they are in response to the systemic racism that is woven through our society.

JMU held a virtual discussion with faculty, staff and student experts on June 3 about the history of systemic racism, the role of protest and activism in creating a more just and inclusive democracy, and actions we can take on campus at James Madison University and in Harrisonburg to end racism and white supremacy and to create a more inclusive society and democracy. Speakers:

  • Dr. Amy Lewis, JMU School of Music
  • Dr. Terry Beitzel, JMU Justice Studies and Director of The Mahatma Gandhi Center
  • Jordan Todd, JMU Office of Residence Life
  • Norman Jones, Student Representative to JMU Board of Visitors
  • Aaliyah McLean, JMU Civic & Dukes Vote Woodson Martin Democracy Fellow '20-21
  • Kendallee Walker, Chair of Diversity and Inclusion, Student Government Association
  • Noa Bank Greene, President of the JMU Branch of NAACP
  • Kyel Towler, JMU Black Student Alliance

Discussion questions

  • What changes in our daily lives can individuals make to be an antiracist?
  • How do we build sustainable collective action to change racist systems that surround us?
  • What are important policy changes that individuals can advocate to advance racial justice?
  • What responsibility does JMU and other institutions of higher education have to support anti-racist efforts in our community?
  • How has JMU and other institutions of higher education contributed to racism and white supremacy?
  • What steps can JMU and other institutions of higher education take to eliminate policies and practices have that contributed to racial inequities on campus and beyond?
  • How can JMU and other institutions of higher education hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion?
  • How should JMU and other institutions of higher education address the issue of campus buildings named for slave-owners and prominent racists?
Athletics and Social Justice

There is a long history of athletes using their position to spotlight injustice and speak truth to power. In modern American sports, protests began in 1883. Among many recent examples: 

  • Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on the 1968 Olympic podium shoeless and their fists above their bowed heads to silently protest racial discrimination; 
  • Toni Smith, a senior guard for the Manhattanville College women’s basketball team turning her back to the U.S. flag during the anthem in 2003 to protest the U.S. war in Iraq; 
  • Cavaliers teammates LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were among several NBA players who wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts before their games on Dec. 8, 2014; 
  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before his preseason debut against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26, 2016. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said after the game. “To me this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
  • NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, 26, successfully pushed NASCAR to ban confederate flags from events following the police killing of George Floyd.
  • There have also petitions and calls to rename sports teams (DC) and stadiums (Florida State). 

Watch or listen to the conversation about the role and agency of athletes, teams and athletic organizations in addressing racial injustice, systemic racism, and creating a more just and inclusive society and democracy with:

  • Semaj Sorhaindo, JMU Football Student-Athlete
  • Nikki Oppenheimer, JMU Women's Basketball Student-Athlete
  • Arthur Moats, JMU alumn & linebacker for the Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Arizona Cardinals
  • Ta’ Frias, JMU Track & Field Head Coach
  • Jeff Bourne, Director of Athletics, James Madison University 
  • Roger Soenksen, Faculty Athletic Representative & Professor in JMU School of Media Arts & Design

Resources:

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does racial and social justice in sports and athletics look like to you? 
  • How does your race affect your perception of athletes, coaches or athletic organizations making a political stand or take a public position on racial and social justice issues?
  • Why is there backlash when athletes take a public position on racial and social justice issues?
  • How can you use your platform to help create a more just future for your sport? 
  • How should we support student athletes to make sure they are heard and can thrive on and off the field? 
  • If you could implement one policy at JMU or in your favorite sports institution that would help create a more inclusive athletic and campus experience what would it be? Are there policies you would remove or change?
  • In what way can athletes and athletics help create a more inclusive society and democracy?
Antiracism & Black Agency Through Arts

Arts are a powerful means to reach and transform society by encouraging social change, fostering agency, deepening commitments to justice, and informing the larger society about social issues. The arts are also a means of: inventing and retelling stories and fostering conversations within and outside of social movements; communicating emotions; enacting movement goals; informing ideals and values both within and outside of social movements; and providing aesthetic joy.

On June 17, JMU held a virtual discussion about music, spoken word, poetry, and the role of arts as a means for education, agency and expression of antiracism and racial equity. Presenters in order of appearance include: 

  • Anastaciya Wheeler, Communications, JMU ‘21 and immediate past president of Women of Color
  • Dr. Lauren K. Alleyne, Associate Director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center
  • Dr. Adérónké Adésolá Adésànyà, Associate Professor of Art History, JMU School of Art, Design and Art History
  • Dr. David Berry, Chair of Music, Eastern Mennonite University
  • Dr. Maureen Shanahan, Art History Area Coordinator, Professor of Art History, JMU School of Art, Design and Art History
  • Dr. Joanne Gabbin, Executive Director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center

Resources:

Rethinking Policing Virtual Discussion & Resources

This virtual discussion with Harrisonburg Chief of Police Eric English, JMU Campus Police Chief Kevin Lanoue, Dr. Ben Blankenship (Assistant Professor, JMU Psychology), Daerenz Lyons, Vice President of The JMU Branch of NAACP, Leeyah Jackson, Communications Specialist JMU Civic & Dukes Vote centered on ways to rethink policing and rebuild community trust in the wake of police violence.

Read the JMU Civic & Dukes Vote primer on Policing here.

Discussion Questions

  • How does your race inform your view of and interactions with law enforcement?
  • What can be done to create accountability and build better relationships between law enforcement and communities of color?
  • What role does stereotyping and implicit bias play in levels of trust?
  • In what ways does White privilege affect the relationship between different groups of people and law enforcement agencies?
  • What can/should be done to reduce and eliminate local law enforcement agencies procuring and using military weaponry in operations?
  • In what ways can law enforcement leaders ensure officers are educating themselves and staying current with evolving best practices to combat racism?
  • What are some of the policies and practices police departments should develop that support fairness, equity, procedural justice, legitimacy, transparency, and accountability — the values that build trust in policing, restore confidence in police, and, ultimately, heal wounds?
  • What role has the police played in creating the “school to prison pipeline” and what steps are needed to address this problem?

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