Diversity Dialogues Town Hall Encourages Listening and Understanding
Education and listening were crucial themes during the inaugural edition of the University of Tennessee Diversity Dialogues Town Hall series “Blue and Brown Working Together” that was held Thursday night in Cox Auditorium.
The town hall-style discussion — which was moderated by UT SGA President Carson Hollingsworth and WATE reporter Kristen Holloway — featured a panel of student, community and law enforcement leaders engaging in an audience-driven discussion of the relationship between police and people of color.
Speakers included: Knoxville Chief of Police David Rausch, UT Chief of Police Troy Lane, Courtland Thompson of Brothers United for Excellence, Kaylyn Harris of the UT chapter of the NAACP, and Pastor Daryl Arnold of Overcoming Believers Church.
Before discussions began, the event started with a slideshow tribute of multiple people who have been killed by police over the past few years as well as officers who have been taken in the line of duty recently. The audience was then asked to participate in a moment of silence after the slideshow had concluded.
A recurring point throughout the evening was learning to listen.
“ I think that there’s no way in the world that we can fix a problem without first dialogue and listening to one another,” Pastor Arnold said. He then compared the discussions on police/minority relations with trying to diagnose a medical issue. He stated that town halls like this one are like checking off symptoms on a clipboard and trying to figure out what the cause is.
For law enforcement representatives, the discussion was all about building better relationships based on understanding.
“The opportunity is the first thing I thought about with the invitation (to the panel),” Chief Rausch said. “The opportunity to engage, the opportunity to inform and the opportunity to learn.”
Chief Lane alluded to a meeting with Thompson over the summer when talking about the importance of learning different perspectives.
“It was eye-opening,” Lane said. “You can have dialogue but until you can somehow understand their perspective it’s not as powerful…at the end of the day I have to lead a department and if I can’t articulate to my officers some other perspective other than my own then I’m not going to be as effective of a leader.”
Thompson made a point that everyone has to understand the humanity of the relationship between people of color and the police. He said that “we are all under one human race” and that not every bad incident with an officer is based in bias.
“Let a coincidence be a coincidence. It may not be a biased report, it’s not going to become a pattern,” Thompson said. “Not every time I had an encounter was my or the police’s fault. We both could’ve been having bad days.”
A major emphasis for the panel was law enforcement diversity training. The panel was in agreement that not only should diversity training be mandatory but also taught in an efficient manner.
“Diversity training needs to be led by the right people,” Arnold said. “Becoming an officer does not change a person’s heart and it’s difficult to control what’s going on in a person’s heart.”
Rausch added to Arnold’s point, stating that “the key is how you train.”
When a question to the panel’s student representatives regarding how UT students in the majority can help out minority students, Harris said that you have to expand your horizons and become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
“Stepping outside of your comfort zone and attending NAACP, attending organizations and programs where you will not be the majority will definitely give you a better insight,” Harris said. “Just being willing to hear out people within your residence hall, people you come in contact with and being willing just to hear what they have to say can make a world of difference.”
At the conclusion of the town hall the panel all agreed that police/minority relations can improve through effective communication, better education, training and listening.
The audience was asked a poll question at the end of the discussion which asked if they had hope moving forward after the meeting. 86 percent of the respondents said “yes” compared to the 14 percent that said they didn’t.
Thursday’s meeting was the first out of four Diversity Dialogues that UT will host. The second part in the series entitled “Mass Shootings and Community Impact” will take place on Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in Cox Auditorium.