STORY BY MORGAN MURASKI
In light of the recent series of race-related police brutality issues that have recently captured the nation’s attention, the concept of finding a way to talk about race and the law has become increasingly important outside of the arena of traditional news media.
One place where discussions of race occur frequently is institutions of higher learning, such as Drake University.
Drake’s campus possess a microcosm of people who embody elements of diversity related to gender, race, sexual orientation, religion and any other number of distinguishing markers. However, first-year Abigail Nelson said that conversations about these topics aren’t always productive in Drake’s social sphere.
“Students may be listening, and you can talk about it safely enough, but that’s not what it’s about,” Nelson said. “It’s about trying to understand other viewpoints and move beyond just listening.”
Nelson developed her perspective on the issue largely due to a class she is taking this semester, which discusses restorative models of religious justice that inevitably tie to discussions of race.
For the benefit of students like Nelson, topics such as race are not only being discussed in a social setting at Drake, but an academic one.
The Law, Politics and Society Department offers a course titled “Law and Order,” which, in part, seeks to educate students about how the law on the books impacts citizens differently based on elements of their identity.
Professor William Garriott teaches the course, and said that it is broken down into something called “the four C’s,” which include studies of cops, courts, corrections and citizens, all of which are affected by racial relations within the justice system.
Students who take the course are not only given in class instruction, but also participate in a variety of justice related fieldtrips that include visits to prisons and police ride alongs.
First-year law, politics and society student Madeline Miller described her time with a police officer as an eye opening experience. Miller said that the female officer indicated that she chose to follow or stop people based on elements of their person that were “sketchy.” Miller then took this idea and applied it to her academic definition of what is racist in the eyes of the law throughout the class.
She also said that the experience not only opened her eyes to the world of racial profiling, but gave her a better understanding of the kind of stress police officers are under to make the right choices.
“Stereotyping is both part of their job and something that they have to work against,” Miller said. “They have to make split second decisions and often have to rely on past experience.”
Miller said her experiences were shared by the rest of her classmates, all of who had different stories to tell about the way they saw the racist effect on the law.
Garriott said that it is this kind of academic, social learning he hopes will continue in future semesters of the course.
“Issues related to race are only starting to break through into public conscience,” Garriott said. “I want students to be exposed to a variety of voices and have a place to think critically about those things, and I also hope being able to give them those experiences enables them to think about these issues.”
The Law, Politics and Society Department is offering one section of Law and Order this upcoming fall at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday taught by Professor Garriott.