Penn State

On Centre: Penn State | Missouri killing sparks racial discussion

A man stands in front of police. His hands are raised in the air. Bullets fly. The man falls, and a movement rises.

In August, Ferguson, Mo., became the epicenter of a new kind of civil rights movement, not about segregated schools or moving to the back of the bus. Half a century after those battles were fought, there is another goal: having the right to walk into an encounter with police, unarmed, without fear.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday in Foster Auditorium, Penn State’s African American studies department will explore the issue that is still in the headlines.

On Thursday, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson issued an apology to the family of slain teenager Michael Brown, who was killed by Officer Darrell Wilson in an episode that ignited several nights of conflict between protesters and authorities.

“Facing Ferguson: A Teach-In on Race and State Violence” will dissect the issues.

For some Penn State students, it might be an issue they understand all too well. For others, it might be something that doesn’t make any sense at all. And that’s the great thing about college.

University Park campus has about 45,000 students, according to the University Budget Office. About two-thirds of those are white. The remaining 13,000 or so include 5,500 international students and 7,500 identified minorities.

In a county that is 89 percent white, it is easy to see that the complexion of the college helps expand the diversity of the local population.

So perhaps a conversation, a frank conversation, about the impact of race in a Ferguson-like situation can likewise expand the understanding for people who might not have any point of reference.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. No one should have to know what it is like to realize that if you get pulled over for a broken taillight, you might end up in the hospital or the morgue.

But those of us who don’t face that problem should absolutely understand that there are people who do, and that is wrong.

That’s the kind of education we can all use.