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Students, faculty discuss slavery and the Bible at ’12 years a Slave’ showing

After watching “12 Years a Slave” Tuesday, students, faculty and staff discussed the implications of the film personally, as Christians and as a campus community. The School of Theology and Christian Ministry hosted the event. Sixty students attended the event.

Heather Ross, associate professor of philosophy, put together the event and played the role of emcee for the panelists. The goal of the night’s event was for students to realize their role as Christian in a world of modern slavery.

“Being Christian is not just a passive warm feeling in our hearts,” said Ross. “It entails something, like a striving and working for justice and especially with those, that have been marginalized…And what it means in the United States, who are those that are most marginalized, who are those that are the greatest, most obvious victims. We don’t have to look very far to see that so much of that marginalization has its roots in our recent past of American slavery.”

On the panel were six professors: Michael Lodahl, theology professor, Jamie Gates, sociology professor, Kelli McCoy, associate professor of history, Karl Martin, literature professor, Linda Beail, political science professor and Jeffery Carr, associate vice president for student development and chief diversity officer.

Because of the many themes contained within the film, Ross said it was important for her when deciding upon the panelist members to find people who could speak into those themes.

“Part of the beauty of film is that if it functions well as a work of art; it’s going to have implications across all of the disciplines,” said Ross.

After the panel discussion, students were invited to respond. Topics ranged from explaining biblical passages that condone slavery to personal testimonies.

One such testimony came from Taylor Rivers, a senior international studies major, whose ancestors include slaves. Rivers spoke of the importance of talking about race and racial issues openly at PLNU, and of trying to find her identity through her ancestors.

“This is not my story, but the story of the people that I come from, and through that it’s hard to see this film but to know the strength of the people that I come from. Often it’s hard when we hear about the poverty and the inequality and sometimes it’s hard to feel proud or not to even know who I am,” said Rivers. “But knowing that I come from this interesting part – not African, not American, whatever that is – and not really knowing who that is. Acknowledging the unknown is important.”

Though the panel offered a medium for people to talk about race, the Bible and gender, some students felt the panel left some things out.

“I felt like there were holes in the panel where different important issues on race should have been brought up that weren’t,” said Julia Cheree Giacopuzzi, a senior biochemistry major. “Something I hear most about race is reverse racism and I personally believe that reverse racism contributes more to racism than a lot of things in California… I feel like those issues not being talked about leaves me feeling unsettled coming out of it.”

Alex Morrison, a junior applied health science major, is half Armenian. Staff and faculty members said during the discussion that Caucasians dominate education and the financial sector, but Morrison questioned how much of that is due to “different racial groups [trying] to almost control and hold on to their heritage.”

“You look at all these different racial groups and you see that they all have their own culture,” said Morrison. “There’s something about them that makes them unique and brings them together; whereas, you have these very different white cultures that at one point came from somewhere. But now it’s all roped in as ‘normal.’ So what does that mean? What is white culture and have white people, has the white majority, sold out? Have they sold their culture for this dominance in education and this dominance in the financial sector?”

Ross hoped that students left changed after seeing the film.

“I want them to go out of here with their hearts transformed and their passions enlivened so that this issue will be something that they not only recognize, they understand some of the history about it and be able to articulate it, but they’re going to want to do something about it,” said Ross.

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