Nov. 15, about 20 people gathered in UW Tacoma’s Center for Equity and Inclusion to discuss the hot-button issue of NFL protests. This meeting is part of the Center’s Real Talk program — an hour-long space for students, faculty and staff to have conversations about important social justice issues. Real Talk plans to meet 4 to 6 times each quarter.
D’Andre Williams, student program coordinator for the Center, saw the need for a program like Real Talk.
“From my perspective higher education has always been both a proponent of social change and a place of oppression,” he said.
Williams created the Real Talk program to provide students with a place to come together and discuss pressing social justice issues.
“I developed the Real Talk program with the intent to create a space in which members of the UW Tacoma community can have critical conversations about social justice issues while learning from and sharing with their peers and community members,” Williams said.
The purpose of Real Talk is to provide a space for respectful and inclusive conversations of pressing issues. Attendees are given a sheet of paper with ground rules. The seventh rule on this list states “The goal is not to agree; it is to gain a deeper understanding of the issue or one another.” Other rules condemn hate speech and personal attacks, asking instead for respect and listening of others’ views.
After the introduction and group reading of the rules, the meeting began with a video and question asked by Williams to prompt further discussion about the NFL protests. The session was then turned over to those attending to share their thoughts.
The NFL protests, which were the subject of this Real Talk Session, consist of high-profile football players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem when played before a game. This is done to bring attention to racism and racial injustice in the United States — especially racism connected to “police brutality.” Since NFL games have such a large audience, the protests have been able to reach millions of people.
The protests have sparked a national debate — including President Trump — about whether the protests are acceptable. As noted in the Real Talk meeting, some defend the players’ right to free speech while others criticize their actions as disrespectful.
While discussing the protests, one student said, “It reaches a lot of people who might not normally be part of this conversation.” Later, a staff member mentioned that we must “examine why there is a discomfort surrounding [the protests].”
The discussion touched on various themes including: history, racial injustice, racism and how protests can be a catalyst for change. Many attendees voiced their support for the protesters to use a high-profile medium like national football — while a few others wondered if there may be a better method.
Previous Real Talk meetings have covered a wide variety of current social justice issues including DACA dreamers and the Dakota Access Pipeline. The next Real Talk will discuss studying for finals and student experience — which will be held on Dec. 6.
Speaking of the future of Real Talk, Williams explained the following:
“My hope is that the program can become essential to UWT and a nexus for activism at UWT from our students, staff, and faculty.”