Dear Bucknell University: Now what?

Erin Hausmann, Staff Writer

Reconciliation and diversity were the focusing themes of Drake University Professor of Religion Jennifer Harvey’s discussion titled “Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation.” Harvey led presentations at both noon and 7 p.m. on March 2, with culminating discussion and conversation for both. The event was part of the Multicultural Student Service’s UnHerd series and was co-sponsored by the Campus Ministry.

Harvey’s talk addressed the ways racism is encountered and framed in today’s society, especially given the 2014 race-related riots in Ferguson, Miss. and the contentious political atmosphere brought about by the 2016 presidential election. Harvey noted that her aims were not to land on partisan grounds; instead, she sought to see “how the election signified voters who are willing, regardless of politics, to vote for someone who spoke in violent and vitriolic language,” Harvey said.

Harvey began with two quotes by Rosa Park that reflected Park’s belief in the right to self-defense and her involvement in the Detroit race riots, parts of her history as a civil rights warrior that are largely ignored compared to her engagement in civil disobedience on the bus in Montgomery, Ala.

The discussion of these quotes led to Harvey’s main challenge for the audience: in the face of the progress civil rights activists made in the 1960s and 1970s, and in light of events in the past two years in our country especially, now what?

Harvey identified reconciliation and diversity as the two paradigms that have framed our discussion of race in America. She highlighted how these paradigms shape not only what we see, but also what we don’t see, and the impact they have on our priorities.

“Both reconciliation and diversity rest on the assumption that all of our differences can be shared. They have failed us [and] have specifically failed communities of colors in both the church and higher education,” Harvey said.

In her analysis of the role religion plays in racial reconciliation, Harvey spoke of Christians in America who worship in spaces that are just as racially distinct as they were before the civil rights movement. She discussed how mainline Christian Protestants have been committed to race reconciliation, but despite the fact that “both reconciliation and diversity have very legitimate and important historical and theological precedents,” both ideas rest on assumptions of shared differences and result in little progress.

“We don’t usually view the role religion plays in society, and I think that using religion as platform to spread and talk about society is good. It was helpful for me to see it through a Christian lens,” Jahi Omari ’17 said.

Harvey emphasized the opportunities for change that this critically important time in America has created. She noted the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and the masses of people who mobilized for women’s marches in January as grounds for a “power people movement.”

Harvey offered a third paradigm as a means of true progression in America: reparations. Though she acknowledged that it is a difficult and uncertain topic to deal with, it is “unquestionably morally coherent and clear” that we as a nation and as a society owe marginalized groups and peoples who we have oppressed something.

“Reconciliation doesn’t ask much directly of one. It sort of asks you to feel, or to hope … but reparation asks something of people more directly, it asks for a commitment of resources … It’s not as comfortable,” Assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy Ibrahim Sulai said.

Harvey invoked a third Rosa Parks quote to conclude her talk, one that considers possible roads to reparations and eventual concrete change.

“Even when we don’t know what that pathway looks like exactly, it’s time to make any move to show that we are dissatisfied,” Harvey said.

Many of those who attended the talk were intrigued by the concept of reparations, especially in terms of what reparation means for a college campus.

“Reparations are context specific, so I was thinking ‘what’s the history at Bucknell? What kind of things might need to be addressed?’ and that’s a matter of history. I don’t know it, but someone does or someone can find out,” Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Debra Erickson said.

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