A panel of Penn State professors held a teach-in Tuesday night to help debunk myths surrounding the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va.
More than 150 students, faculty and community members gathered in Foster Auditorium in Paterno Library for the standing-room only discussion. Courtney Morris, one of the event’s six panelists, looked out at the audience and said, “when I see a crowd like this, I think the children are all right.”
The purpose of Tuesday night’s panel was to discuss what happened and what’s next in the aftermath of the attack that was deemed an act of domestic terrorism. On Aug. 12, a group of white nationalists assembled in Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” march in opposition of a plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The event left at least 34 wounded and one dead after a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters.
Morris, an assistant professor of African-American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, discussed what she called the “false idea” that the white supremacists responsible for the Charlottesville violence are on the political fringe.
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“Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and their allies that we call the ‘fringe’ are having their coming out moment to society because they perceive the political climate is right to do so and people want to hear what they have to say,” she said.
African American Studies Department Head Cynthia Young debunked the idea that these protesters came out of nowhere. She countered that in reality, they have been hiding in plain sight.
Jeanine Staples, an associate professor of education and African-American studies, went on to challenge the myth that the images from Charlottesville are what white supremacy looks like.
“I bet money you would not know a white supremacist when you saw one,” she said.
She explained that when white supremacy patriarchy is used as a term in correlation with images of KKK hoods and Nazi shields like in Charlottesville, that term is being defined in a very narrow way that distracts from the greater underbelly of that ideology that “rests in the soul of almost every American.”
After the panel, the event opened up for discussion with the audience using both anonymous index cards for questions and the hashtag #CharlottesvilleAFAMPSU on Twitter.
Questions ranged from how to define white supremacy to how to be an ally to minority groups.
Davon Clark, a Penn State student, asked the panelists how to address discourse, or lack thereof, at Penn State. He said he perceives that there’s an attitude that Penn State doesn’t let things like what happened in Charlottesville happen here because “We Are,” and therefore people do not talk about the issues happening on campus.
Morris responded by quoting African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “power concedes nothing without a demand.” And all the panelists agreed students have the power to start conversations and influence administration.
Staples concluded the event by challenging the audience to figure out how to free themselves of the “white supremacy patriarchy.”
“Make that a lifelong project and we will start to see a shift.”
Megan Fleming is a Penn State journalism student.