Southern Illinois University Edwardsville faculty and students met Friday in a town hall discussion about the incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and their impact on campus.
Several people shared personal experiences about run-ins with police, including graduate student Josh Rice, who is black. Rice said he was once stopped by a university police officer and accused of stealing his own car.
"I make a joke out of it now with my friends, but I was extremely offended," Rice said.
Several people said their encounters with police have left them wary. A student said he can tell a difference when he's riding in a car with black friends as opposed to white friends, saying they were once pulled over because his friend was "wearing a hat the wrong way." A black student said he was pulled over for having an air freshener in his rearview mirror. These incidents happened elsewhere as well as on campus, they said.
"You kill what you're afraid of," said history professor Anthony Cheeseboro, who said it is the visual image of young black men as dangerous that is a big part of the problem. "I haven't bitten anyone since 1974."
Cheeseboro said police need retraining to look at black males not as any statistic or demographic, but simply "as men."
"If they do, then a brief failure to reply or talking back isn't seen as a life-threatening situation," Cheeseboro said.
SIUE Police Chief Kevin Schmoll said the university police have two officers of color out of 37, and that officers receive 40 hours of training per year, including diversity training. Sociology professor Sandra Weissinger offered access to her classes focusing on diversity for the police officers, and Schmoll said he would discuss that with her.
Kalisha Turner, an academic adviser, said as the mother of two black sons, it saddens her that they must teach their children to take their hats off in the car so they don't "get profiled."
"This is not a white or black problem, this is everyone's problem," Turner said.
There were several discussions about ways to help, including a food drive for the families of Ferguson who have been out of work most of the week, and ways to incorporate current events into the classes that are about to begin.
Chancellor Julie Furst-Bowe attended part of the meeting, stepping in after having delivered a welcome speech to incoming freshmen. She had requested the town hall take place after days of discussion among faculty and staff on email listservs.
"It's obviously a tragic situation; (Michael Brown) was going to be a college freshmen, just like our students," Furst-Bowe said.
Organized by professor Laura Wolf, who lives in Ferguson, the town hall focused on sharing perspectives and finding ways to improve race relations within and outside the university. Wolf said she wants SIUE to be a force for improvement in the region.
"How can we be a model for the region and the world? How can we as a community change, and what can we do to continue the conversation?" Wolf said.
"We are going to be in the change in this region, we are going to be the change we wish to see."