Last Friday, Waynesburg University hosted a Student Speaks on policing in America. According to Isaiah Skeete, a senior criminal justice major, the event was intended to get students involved in conversations about criminal justice and policing in America.
“The whole concept is we are just trying to get the discussion started, just having an open forum to talking about police techniques used in some current issues that we have seen over the past year or two and just trying to get people’s input,” he said. “Starting the discussion, I think that’s the biggest thing.
Skeete said that the event was organized by the Diversity and Belonging Team, along with the criminal justice club.
“I’m the one helping from [the Diversity and Belonging] team, and Claire Wherthey, president of the criminal justice club, she’s co-leading with me and also Holly Ludvigsen, who is also part of the criminal justice club,” Skeete said.
Skeete attributed the initial idea for the event to student feedback on a presentation he was part of last year. The presentation, which was on policing in America, prompted the Diversity and Belonging Team and Criminal Justice club to organize the event.
“That’s kind of why my team and the Criminal Justice club wanted to pair up and talk about it. Just think about it, we’re literally just hearing other people’s point of views and how they perceive things,” Skeete said.
Holly Ludvigsen said that the planners saw policing in America as a hot-button topic. As a criminal justice major, she said that she hoped that the event would help students learn more about the issue at hand.
“Policing in America is a hot topic in America right now, and that’s something as criminal justice majors we definitely wanted to address,”Ludvigsen said. “And hopefully help inform people, so that they are coming from this from a more informed perspective.”
According to Ludvigsen, the participants discussed a variety of topics all relating to policing in America.
“We discussed some other policies, we discussed the legalization of marijuana, three strikes laws, felony disenfranchisement, and then we discussed some current issues like the George Floyd incident and Breonna Taylor,” Ludvigsen said. “So we tried to get a variety of some more academic-based and some more emotion-based [topics].”
In the past, Skeete said that in-person Students Speaks usually garnered about 25-30 participants. However, he was unsure what attendance to expect for the event last Friday, due to limited advertising and the fact that the event was held online. Regardless of the number, he said his primary hope was that the students who did attend would be excited to engage with the topics.
According to Ludvigsen, that hope was realized. By her count, the meeting had around 10-11 participants who were interested in joining the discussion. She also noted that the participants seemed interested in discussing the topics.
“Obviously it would help if there were more people, but the people who were there were really involved and participated a lot, which we greatly appreciated,” she said. “It was definitely a well-rounded group, you had people from maybe different ends of the political spectrum and different majors all being able to come together and have this calm, intelligent discussion about some really pressing issues.”
According to Skeete, policing in America has become a widely-discussed topic, both in his criminal justice classes and across the nation as a whole. To him, it is crucial for Americans to be able to discuss this issue. “I think that just talking about it, having these uncomfortable conversations, I think that is just the biggest thing,” he said. “Getting the conversation rolling and just hearing people out, I think that is how we learn.”