Campus / News / October 29, 2014

Freshmen discuss prejudice

As part of "Defamation: A Courtroom Stage Drama," actors perform a mock trial in front of students in the Kresge Recital Hall. (Williams Shen/TKS)

As part of “Defamation: A Courtroom Stage Drama,” actors perform a mock trial in front of students in the Kresge Recital Hall. (Williams Shen/TKS)

Although Orientation Week for incoming students officially gave way to the beginning of classes mid-September, a series of seminars — mandatory for first-year students — has continued throughout Fall Term as part of a series called “One Community.” As part of the series, last Thursday, Oct. 23, the mock trial “Defamation” brought hard-hitting questions on race, religion and social class to first-year students. The mock trial was part of a Midwest tour self-described as where “race, religion and class collide in a riveting courtroom drama.”

The trial centers on the defendant’s stolen watch, and many issues surface as motives are questioned. The defendant, a wealthy, white Jewish businessman is being sued for racial profiling by the plaintiff, a struggling, black business owner. The plaintiff accuses the defendant of assuming she stole his watch because of her race. As each side attempts to dissuade the other’s point, tensions run high. The audience ultimately has to serve as the jury and produce a verdict.

The floor was then open for discussion, and attempts were made to persuade in favor of each party, resulting in favor of the plaintiff 71 votes to the defendant’s 57. Though according to Tianna Cervantez, Director of Multicultural Student Advisement, this voting procedure was a “sidebar” to the real agenda.

“I have both the privilege and the responsibility of being better informed not just about my life experience, but about how these experiences have impacted other people,” Cervantez said. “It should have been uncomfortable for some in the sense that the material that the play brought is common experience.”

Cervantez said if it made students think about what made them uncomfortable and why they had that reaction, “then it did its job.”

Students attending appreciated the challenging, difficult topics that the mock trial raised.

“I liked that it shed light on cases that are based on racial prejudices,” freshman Erin Prior said following the events discussion.

First-year students would like to see more orientation activities available further into the term, according to freshman Karen Lynch.

“Having these things this late in the term is good, because it shows they are not going to shove us on our way, as far as learning how to integrate into the campus,” Lynch said when asked about attending Orientation events midway through the term.

Sam Watkins

Tags:  defamation diversity freshman orientation mock trial one community race religion social class Tianna Cervantez

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