On Thursday, Nov. 17, the Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Building was the setting for an evening of discussion and fellowship between our area’s law enforcement officers and members of the local community. The event, entitled “Together We Can,” recognized those lives lost to police violence, and honored officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Event coordinator Jade Kinney, who is a doctoral student in the College of Education’s Counseling Psychology program, explained her motivation in coming up with the idea.
“Over the summer there was so much media attention focused on police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement. Our program addressed it and decided to talk about what was really going on,” she said. “I thought that maybe there was something we could do locally to prevent such violence from happening here. So what we put together was really just a chance to get to know one another and find a space to discuss what’s on our hearts. For a lot of people in the black community, it’s not a good situation when you see the police. It shouldn’t be that way. I thought maybe if we all just talked and spent time together we could build relationships. And that’s pretty much what happened. It was a really fun evening.”
Kinney acted as moderator for the event, which included a dozen officers from the Auburn and Opelika Police Departments and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. Allen Sutton, Director of the Cross-Cultural Center for Excellence at Auburn, funded the event. He was unable to attend but sent his regards.
“He was so helpful,” Kinney said. “I came to him empty handed and he agreed to help fund the event. I was so grateful to receive the support that he gave financially and emotionally because I was frazzled sometimes and he helped calm me down!”
Dr. Bobby Woodard, Auburn’s Vice President for Student Affairs, was there. Kinney said he took a leading role, and greeted everyone who came in before making a short welcoming address.
“He was awesome,” Kinney said. “I told him my idea and he helped me prepare and helped me get in touch with the police. Another person who was a huge help was Dr. Joyce Gillie Gossom, who with her husband Thom have a long and very positive history with Auburn. I also got a lot of support from my colleagues at the student counseling center, and then there were just a bunch of students who showed up. I’d say about 50 or 60 people in all.”
Although the event was mainly social in nature, Assistant Chief William Mathews of the Auburn Police Department spent a few minutes addressing the crowd before they broke for food and mingling. He explained that police officers are people, just like the ones they interact with while on duty, and that they seek mutual respect and tolerance. He also thanked Kinney for putting the event together, and said he hopes this will lead to more such discussions and better communication.
“It definitely opened my eyes to see how many people of good will came out right before the Thanksgiving break,” Kinney said. “I really think if we can keep getting more and more people involved, it can help change the atmosphere. Most people want to do good. Turning out here kind of reinforced that for me.”
For her part, Kinney came to Auburn from Lebanon, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. After studying psychology at Loyola of Chicago, she interviewed with the counseling program at Auburn and was accepted. She’s been here 18 months and so far loves what she has seen.
“To be honest, I was surprised when I got here and found that Auburn was a predominantly white institution,” she said. “I guess I just had this image of Alabama, and this really wasn’t it. The vibe feels good here, but I also sense that there is sort of a mask of happiness that is portrayed, because there is a lack of discussion of real issues. I think that events like this can help remove that mask, and that’s a good thing.”
She is much less ambiguous about her program, professors, and colleagues.
“I just love that about Auburn,” she said. “Our professors really care and encouraged us to talk about these difficult issues. Each one of them is awesome. Dr. (Annette) Kluck took the initiative to get us talking, and her husband had over a decade of experience working as a police officer. He came in and described their training and emphasized the importance of including diversity in that training.”
“Also, I work at the student counseling services and feel that we are doing much better in that area,” she said. “Of course there is still stigma surrounding emotional and mental health issues, but we have had a significant increase in people coming in. And I love the people I work with there. So it’s getting better although there’s still a long way to go. Just talking about difficult issues makes everyone feel better. I hope events like this one will become a more regular part of what we do here. I know that everyone who came out left feeling much better. As I said, I think most people want to do good, they just don’t always know how.”
For a brief video of the event, visit www.vimeo.com/193983192.