“In change there is power.”
MU sophomore Yantezia Patrick used those words from self-help author Alan Cohen to open a discussion forum about hate crime held at MU’s Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center on Friday night.
The forum was organized in response to the death of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old boy from Oxnard, Calif., who was shot in the head and killed by one of his classmates on Feb. 12. King was openly gay and harassed at school.
Many are calling the murder a hate crime. In response to the tragedy, MU sorority Gamma Rho Lambda partnered with MU’s Triangle Coalition to try to raise awareness of King’s death in mid-Missouri.
Last week the two groups sold white ribbons and black T-shirts with the question “Are You Erasing Hate?” printed on them. A candlelight vigil was held in King’s memory Thursday night at MU’s Memorial Union. On Friday, students came together at the forum to discuss how they could work together to prevent hate crimes, especially those against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The two groups sponsoring the event said they wanted to create a setting where people could participate in creating a plan of action, rather than just sitting and talking about what happened.
“The main thing we want to get out of this is to talk about what we need to do as a community, a school, an organization and as student leaders in order to create an environment of change,” said Gamma Rho Lambda President Ashley Price.
During the forum, attendees shared their stories and offered suggestions on how to prevent hate crimes.
“It started with the idea for a vigil,” Price said. “But people aren’t just going to have an emotional response, people are going to have an activist response. That’s where the idea of the open forum came from.”
Price and Triangle Coalition President Joshua Barton posed a number of questions to those in attendance, and their responses helped create a “Model of Prevention and Responses of Hate Crimes.” One suggestion was to start educating children about the problem in schools at an early age.
“We came from a bunch of different aspects,” Barton said. “We wanted to know what we could do to create prevention techniques, and when something does happen, how we should respond as a community.”
During the discussion, several people voiced their hope that the community would get more involved in these issues, even when they are not directly affected by them.
“I’d like to see a broader acceptance for diversity in general and involvement by the community as a whole, not just by minority groups,” said Kat Rieder, rush chair of Gamma Rho Lambda.
Leaders of the event agreed that this kind of active discussion is something they would like to do at least once a year so they can continue to work toward putting the ideas discussed at the forum into action.
“As student leaders and organizations, we have so much power in what we can do and influence on campus,” Price said. “We’re trying to gear our actions, not so much towards the social aspect, but to mold the ideals together and involve other community members.”
When one person at the forum asked what the point was in wearing the T-shirts and ribbons that were sold last week, Price said, “As tired as I get everyday having to wear buttons and T-shirts, I know there is going to be people who just don’t care unless I tell them. Dealing with the ignorance of other people gives me strength to keep going.”