DeKALB — Coinciding with the first week of Black History Month, Diversity Dialogues held its first event of the year on what would have been Trayvon Martin’s 24th birthday.
The Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion kicked off the first event in the series Tuesday in partnership with the Center for Black Studies. The series will screen episodes 5 p.m. Tuesdays until March 5.
The series screened the first episode of “Rest in Power Trayvon Martin” in the Sky Room of the Holmes Student Center.
The event was facilitated by Joseph Flynn, associate director of Academic Affairs for the Center for Black Studies, and Simón Weffer, associate professor for the Department of Sociology.
Both facilitators emphasized the importance of keeping discussions of systemic racism relevant in academic discourse in a Q&A session following the screening.
Flynn encouraged attendees to reach out to fellow students to confront injustices encountered in everyday life.
Flynn said presenting the docuseries to students outside of the classroom allows for meaningful discussion.
“Learning about [Martin] and this case is a way of understanding how racism happens,” Flynn said. “People always say ‘I don’t understand how these things can happen,’ or ‘I don’t understand how this is going on.’ This docuseries chronicles that in an upfront and honest way.”
He said the docuseries’ approach to presenting different facets of Martin’s death and the immediate fallout can contextualize similar events occurring then and now in the U.S.
Flynn also said having discussions oriented in the same spirit as Diversity Dialogues are important both in and out of the classroom.
“It’s a one-two punch — on one hand, you need classes to understand these things because there’s a lot of research, theory and history that goes into understanding the phenomenon of race,” Flynn said. “At the same time, you do also need spaces where you can say what you need to say and not worry about whether you’re impressing your professor.”
The first episode of the series began with interviews conducted with Trayvon Martin’s parents and close relatives. Tracy Martin, his father, and Sybrina Fulton, his mother, recounted events in Martin’s childhood and the days leading up to his death.
Following testimonies from Sanford, Florida, law enforcement about the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the series presented 911 calls made the night of Martin’s death. Martin can be heard screaming for help on the recordings, and then silenced by a gunshot fired by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
The episode ended with an allusion to the media fallout that would define the 24-hour news cycle of 2012 and would be addressed in the second episode of the series, to be presented with the first half of the third episode next Tuesday. The episode also credited Martin’s death with sparking the Black Lives Matter movement.
Students and faculty attending the screening provided reactions to the docuseries.
AJ Newell, junior early childhood education major, said she hopes to attend further screenings, though some may interfere with her class schedule.
Newell also said students can inform themselves on race dynamics by attending Diversity Dialogues.
“It’s important having discussions like these,” Newell said. “When we’re at a university based on research and social justice, it’s important for students to have informal conversations.”
Newell also said she would like to see NIU implement a black studies major in the future.
Senior English major Elisha Chaparro said she had been encouraged to attend by her roommate Melanie Sandoval, who helped coordinate the event.
“It allows students to provide their viewpoints,” Chaparro said. “[Diversity Dialogues] open up discussions on these topics that need to be talked about as things that impact our daily lives.”
Monique Bernoudy, vice president of the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said presenting “Rest in Power Trayvon Martin” serves as an educational tool in discussions that may be difficult for students to have.
She said the key to having meaningful conversations through Diversity Dialogues is a focus on minimizing differences present in communities, a point emphasized by the docuseries.
“It’s a reminder of how much further we have to go,” Bernoudy said. “But when you see people advocating and rallying together, that’s also a reminder that together we have power. Together, we can cover miles.”