Andy Lopez Forum: Making Social Justice Part of the Conversation

This past Tuesday, The HUB at Sonoma State organized a panel and public conversation in response to the recent shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez with a lunch hour event, A Conversation About Youth and Social Justice.

Students, faculty and staff packed the Commons, which would normally be filled with people eating lunch at that hour, to discuss how the tragedy impacted their region, local schools and the campus community.

Leading the discussion were four faculty panelist who provided perspectives on the topic of social justice in the local community, guns and youth.

Professor Ron Lopez, Professor of Chicano and Latino Studies, was the first to speak. Lopez touched upon the deeper issues rooted in the Andy Lopez case as they relate to the Latino experience in the United States. He said that Andy Lopez was a product of a neighborhood that was essential lacking services. We must find ways to live that "help prevent these things from happening in our community," he said.

Speaking from a law-enforcement perspective, Professor Napoleon Reyes, Criminal Justice, brought his expertise to the conversation. Reyes noted that he has seen several similar cases where the use of deadly force was ruled to be justified. He provided data and statistics related to police-related incidents in other times and places for comparison to the Andy Lopez shooting.

Professor Cynthia Boaz of the Political Science department spoke about the role of youth in global uprisings and social justice movements. Since Sonoma County youth and Sonoma State students want to do something to engage the community and make positive change, Boaz stressed that the first thing any strategic movement needs to have is a clear, unambiguous goal.

Anthropology Professor Margie Purser spoke after Reyes, saying the incident hit her close to home since her residence is relatively close to Andy Lopez's family and stressed to students that Lopez was part of all of our community. "These are my neighbors. This is us," she said.

As a resident of Santa Rosa, Purser described the archetype of Santa Rosa's identity, and how it is not an accurate representation of the current community. She commented on the lack of representation from southwest Santa Rosa in the City Council.

Dr. Carlos Ayala, the Dean of the School of Education, talked about how the Andy Lopez shooting directly impacted himself and his family. He accompanied hundreds of students who walked out of school to march in protest just days after the tragic event.

He called on SSU students to consider a career in teaching to really make a direct impact and help students like Andy in their community. He called on everyone at SSU to be better connected to the people of Sonoma County.

Mark Fabionar, Director of The HUB, followed the panel by encouraging all students and attendants to actively participate in the conversation by forming into small groups to respond to the panelists' statements. Their conversations addressed what is needed to create a just, vital and healthy community, and how students and others from SSU, can be part of the change that is needed to bring healing and justice to the region and the people who live here.

After the groups concluded their conversations, the participants re-gathered as a whole to contribute their own perspectives. There were a diverse range of viewpoints from students, faculty, residents of Santa Rosa and community members.

The most frequently asked question from participants was "What is our goal?" They also discussed what strategies and tactics can be organized to achieve those goals.

Students and faculty advocated various ways to make small impacts on the campus. Students were encouraged to explore and engage with the neighborhoods in which they reside. Some other suggestions included an increased involvement with on-campus affairs as a technique to directly impact others in the campus community.

Participating in campus dialogues, like the ones hosted regularly by the Hutchins Dialogue Center at SSU, can help students become more aware of social justice issues both locally and more universal issues.

The level of active participation from the event seemed to provide hope for social justice in the community.

No matter what stance they took, students were willing to talk seriously about these issues and wrestle with important decisions about how they individually, and the University as a larger entity, can help can do what is needed to make sure social justice is always part of the conversation.

--Gabrielle Cordero for the School of Education

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