Ferguson Commission engages in dialogue with WU

Nearly 100 Washington University students, faculty and staff members filled Emerson Auditorium to listen to and engage in a dialogue with the Ferguson Commission.

The Ferguson Commission, a group intended to study the economic and social issues brought to light after Michael Brown’s death, was created by Governor Jay Nixon in Oct. 2014. The Commission plans to release a final report in September on issues including citizen law-enforcement relations, municipal governance and education equality. The event was the final installment of St. Louis Up Close, a series of discussions with local nonprofit leaders sponsored by the Gephardt Institute for Public Service.

Together the members of the panel related their own experiences on the Ferguson Commission and spoke to the personal motivations that inspired them as individuals to become driving forces in bringing change to the region.

Chancellor Mark Wrighton began the evening by outlining the importance of having such a dialogue on campus.

“We at Washington University are committed to excellence in education, uncovering new knowledge that will bring benefit to people, and we’re also committed to being engaged in our community in ways that will be fruitful to all of us. I am grateful to the Ferguson Commission for spending so much time in helping us provide the guidance that institutions like ours will need as we strive to make a contribution in the future,” Wrighton said.

Commission members who presented Wednesday evening included Rose Windmiller, assistant vice chancellor for government and community relations; Felicia Pulliam, FOCUS St. Louis development director; Rich McClure, Commission co-chair; and Bethany Johnson-Javois, CEO of the St. Louis Integrated Health Network. Also present on stage was Dr. Amanda Moore McBride, director of the Richard A. Gephardt Institute for Public Service.

McBride emphasized the importance of community education.

“There is a larger issue here in regard to our responsibility as citizens to be informed about the issues and to consider our role in addressing them,” McBride said. “We also should highlight the role this Ferguson Commission plays in ushering through a community engagement process. The governor should be credited for recognizing that injustices were at play and that the communities voice needed to be brought forward to consider how to address those injustices so the commission itself is part of this civic response.”

Johnson-Javois noted that it is important to take these developments and move forward with them.

“To take this as an opportunity not only to do a report but in what way can we capture this moment in the movement?” Johnson-Javois asked. “What we’ve learned quite frankly is that before you do one more program or create one more thing or put funding one more place, we need to listen, well and long and hard, and for those of us who are kind of shaped like me, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason, so we listen harder than we speak, and that’s what we’re learning from this work.”

Dean Mahendra Gupta of the Olin Business School echoed the commission’s sentiments of a need for change in his closing remarks.

“We do have a responsibility to provide a sustainable impact and achieving a lasting change in our community, and in order to have that impact, we must continue to seek the dialogue about race, diversity and inclusion and what we institutions like Washington University can do to bring about change in our region,” Gupta said.

After the event, sophomore Kenneth Sng said he believed the event was successful.

“I think that many people are really interested in this issue and I’m really glad that the members of the commission, they really prepared and they definitely highlighted many very good policies for us to proceed more forward. This is definitely a great engagement session for Washington University to understand this issue,” Sng said.

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Alex SiegmanComment