Black Student Union connects community, police
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Students, faculty and local Phoenix leaders gathered Friday inside of North Lecture Hall to join in the second annual Black Student Union panel discussion about bridging the gap between community and law enforcement.
Charisse Spence, program manager at the Center for Institutional Effectiveness, said the goal of the event is to promote education and awareness around social events and embrace community relations.
“At BSU, the mission is to promote community on campus. The reason the club was initiated was because there was an absence of an African-American community, specifically. We want there to be a channel or a forum where students can feel comfortable interacting with each other, come together and support each other,” she said.
Friday’s panel discussed inner city struggles, law enforcement training, common misconceptions about policing, educating and encouraging today’s generations, shootings and the lack of women in law enforcement. Panelists included members of the Phoenix Police Department, Officer Larry Dotson, Sergeant Jeff Coyle, Sergeant Tim Woods, Rev. Reginald Walton, chairman of Arizona Black Lives Matter, and GCU faculty members Kevin Walling and Nathan Hollis.
Dotson touched on how the media has affected public opinion of the police.
“Phoenix Police Department is being very progressive in the way we associate with people, but the media won’t cover that,” he said. “So for me, if you really want to get the truth of what is going on, then the places you fear the most or may not have a good understanding of — engage with those people. The role that the media plays is huge, but as an individual you can make it really small using your own eyes.”
Coyle described how he was impacted by the shooting and killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“The way that situation was handled by the media and local law enforcement was a catalyst for what we saw to come over the next couple of years,” he said. “It was a horrific, tragic incident that should have never happened.”
He added that while Phoenix PD can’t fix what happens in other parts of the country, “we can use those instances to make ourselves better here.”
Walton gave students advice about obtaining spiritual guidance to resolve challenges in their lives.
“Your spiritual foundation is the basis of all that you are,” he said. “Here at Grand Canyon University, you are answered prayers, and what you don’t realize is that somebody a long time ago prayed for you to be here at this very moment.”
Woods discussed the importance of college education and mentoring.
“By going to college you are going to change the dynamics of your nuclear family for generations to come — I’m one of those kids,” he said. “My mother had me when she was 15 years old and we were on welfare. As an adult I’ve never had to go on welfare because I’ve expanded my opportunities.”
He also delivered lines from William Ernest Henley’s poem, “Invictus,” which means unconquerable in Latin.
“If you live by that poem and think of that poem when you don’t think you can do something — you can get it done,” he added.
During the panel discussion, Ardith Matthews, a University development counselor, stood up to express her gratitude to those in attendance.
“I am really excited that you all are here because you’ve made a difference being here,” she said.
And to the students, she encouraged, “Get your degrees, please.”
The overall goal of the event was to initiate a dialogue with people passionate about various events within the community as they relate to national events.
Christopher McCloud, Phoenix PD recruiting officer who was invited to explain the need for more women in law enforcement, said the event was “positive and insightful” in addressing students’ questions and concerns.
“It seemed as though they had spoken to others in the community to bring forward a conversation about the events happening around the world. I enjoyed myself and I look forward to doing it again,” McCloud said.
Several points were made that interested sophomores Erica Alouii and Janay Souvenir.
“I was most surprised by the measures that the Phoenix Police Department is taking to get along with the community, especially by partnering with the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Alouii. “I think this breaks a barrier and creates an understanding between police and community.”
Souvenir said she liked an analogy that was made between the Black Lives Matter movement and Susan G. Komen.
“Black Lives Matter is not saying that all other lives don’t matter, just like Susan G. Komen is not saying that every other cancer type doesn’t matter,” Souvenir said. “That’s the fight she’s fighting because it’s what’s closest to her.”
Souvenir said that, moving forward, she wants to encourage other non African-American students to join the conversation.
“BSU isn’t just for black students. It’s for all students of all walks of life,” she said.
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.