Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Challenging Conversations series explores race, justice in America

Challenging Conversations guest speakers address the impact of inequality on areas including policing, education, and worship.

Following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and protests across the country, the University of Redlands Advancement Division partnered with Senior Diversity and Inclusion Officer Christopher Jones to host a series of virtual events on topics of race, justice, spirituality, education, and diversity.          

“As an institution of higher education, I can tell you we may not have all the answers, but we should be part of developing solutions to fix a system built upon racist ideologies,” Jones said in introducing the series. “We continue, as a University community, to uphold the fundamental values of a liberal arts education by exposing students to critical discussions, challenging assumptions, encouraging active listening, and giving [students] opportunities to analyze complex situations, such as those we face today.”

Here are excerpts from four of these conversations, edited for length and clarity.

On race and justice

The conversation on June 17, which is available on video, focused on race and justice through the lens of policing and law.

“There’s so much tension [between the police and communities of color] because racial profiling happens all the time. On top of that, implicit biases exist. In recent years, we’ve been dealing with the concept of proactive policing, which means police officers attempt to stop crime before it happens; when officers are engaged in this kind of policing, racism becomes prevalent…. If the kind of policing that is done in Redlands happened everywhere, it would be very helpful. But you can’t balance out hard feelings with good community programming because [people of color] have been unfairly targeted for so long.”
—San Bernardino County Public Defender G. Christopher Gardner ’92

“There will definitely be changes made [to policing]. One will be creating some kind of national database to register excessive force complaints [against officers] to make sure that they don’t go police elsewhere. At a national level, there needs to be a clear-cut requirement for when excessive force can be used…. We talk about de-escalation and the duty to intervene. If your partner is doing something unlawful, you have a duty to intervene. If we can’t intervene, we shouldn’t be officers. We take our hiring process very seriously—we want people to be involved in community service, have diverse backgrounds, and have a connection with Redlands.”
—Redlands Police Department Deputy Chief of Police Travis Martinez ’94

On diversity

The June 24 conversation featured four guests (three of them from the U of R) addressing topics of diversity and inclusion, especially in the workplace.

“I’ve been participating in some conversations and we’ve been talking about having uncomfortable conversations with those around us and facing issues head on by opening up the dialog… We’ve been coming up with how we want to see change within our division, because the only way that things are going to change for us, and future generations, is by having dialog and being strategic in implementing policies that will bring about change within our institution.”
Joy Clark, an administrator in U of R Admissions, on how U of R employees are addressing inequity

 “How we see people, how we treat people, how we interact with people are going to be part of what shapes our interactions and the ways we function. Those hierarchies and the ways in which oppression in society effects our minds are going to shape our ability to think well about people who may not look like us…. One of the things I think is important is to understand and name the kinds of oppressive forces in society and the ways they have been embedded in our institutions and how those shape who is here and who is in the pipeline to get here.” 
Keith Osajima, professor and director of Race and Ethnic Studies, on identifying and understanding biases in academia

“Culture, in its purest form, is nothing more than a schema—a way for us to organize the world and the people we encounter, to help us navigate it. The problem arises when people become so attached to those schemas that they’re not willing to see the individual or their schemas are built on incorrect information. Fundamentally, culture is just a way for us to understand people that we encounter.”
Maria Muñoz, U of R professor of communication sciences and disorders, on multiculturalism

“To a certain extent, there is a misnomer when it comes to talking about ‘diversity and inclusion’…. When an organization makes a commitment to diversity, I see that as tokenism—I want to have inclusivity. That’s more important to me than diversity because if an organization is inclusive, then my thoughts matter, my direction, my feedback, my suggestions—I’m being empowered to make decisions for the organization as a whole. With inclusion comes empowerment.”
Tiffany Felix ’11, vice president of enterprise risk at Oh My Green, on diversity and inclusion in corporate America

On the impact on students

The July 1 conversation featured three U of R students and a recent graduate on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“When the majority of faculty members are white and male, we as students see very few people who look like us and that impacts our ability to be inspired to pursue the subjects that we want to pursue because we don’t see someone who looks like us who is already in the position to guide us—we have no one to look up to…. We also don’t see faculty members who understand the struggles of students of color. Many students of color come from disadvantaged backgrounds [and] would be better accommodated by diverse faculty members and staff.”
Suphanat (Soup) Isarangkoon Na Ayutthaya ’22, U of R Johnston Center for Integrative Studies student

“[Race] touches every aspect of my life—it shapes how I view everything and how I navigate through the world and as a student at Redlands…. If there aren’t students from other ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds represented on a university campus, others aren’t able to learn and navigate through situations with people who are different than them; and then those students go out into the world not knowing how to navigate through diverse populations. The University becomes a place for white students to learn about that, but, as a student of color, it’s not something I can personally get away from.”
Chanel Parrish ’21, U of R School of Education graduate student

 “It’s a lot about recognizing that you have a certain privilege or a certain place in society that is considered to be ‘above’ other people—once you’re accepting of those things, you need to be able to take the time to have critical and difficult conversations. Those conversations are going to be the places where you might realize that something you said in the past went against the lived experiences of others. Having those conversations are very important for changing biases and prejudices in society.” 
David Hazward ’22, U of R College of Arts and Sciences studio arts major and Campus Diversity and Inclusion multicultural intern

“Faculty members have a moral and ethical obligation to their students. If students are being treated unfairly, they should take time in class to discuss the situation. No one should have to feel out of place or uncomfortable when they’re paying to attend a class to learn material.”
Natalie Boehm ’20, president of Defeating Epilepsy Foundation, on addressing conflict in the classroom

On spirituality

The July 8 conversation tapped leaders in the religious community for their thoughts on the cost of inequity.

“One of the large crosses that the traditional Black church carries is its adherence to sexism and gender-assigned roles. It causes the work that’s done in local churches to become bogged down by other issues. In other words, you have to free women’s bodies if you’re going to free Black bodies. Also, you have to free who people love. When you don’t, those ‘isms’ work together—they support one another. I’m glad to see some movement toward gender inclusivity in traditional Black churches because, if you’ve noticed, the Black Lives Matter movement was created by Black women, which has sometimes led to its delegitimization. It’s Black women’s bodies that are running, creating, innovating, and sustaining that movement.”
—Director of the Graduate School of Theology Shaw Chaplaincy Institute and Shaw Family Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Education Laurie Garrett-Cobbina

“The Bible has been used as a tool of oppression. Enslaved people could not read the Bible—it was illegal at one time for them to do so. A white person had to be present when there was a Black preacher…. These ideas are in direct opposition to the overall message of liberation, and I’m grateful for African Americans who then reclaimed the Bible and pointed to Genesis, where it says that God created us in God’s own image—that means each one of us has the Divine presence within us and each person is to be treated with respect and dignity.”
—Redlands United Church of Christ Senior Pastor Jill Kirchner-Rose

“Religion is a powerful instrument in our lives, but if we use it and abuse it we do great damage and evil to the world…. Today, more often than not, it is religious voices that are causing the pain. We must understand how race and religion can be brought together. We must understand how we affect each other.”
—University of Redlands Omer E. Robbins Chaplain John Walsh

Learn more about alumni events and racial equity initiatives at the University of Redlands.