Dec. 11, 2014
VCU course will explore historical context of events in Ferguson
University is planning to make portions of the course available to the wider public in an online format.
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A new course at Virginia Commonwealth University will explore the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri – including the killing of Michael Brown, as well as the response by the community, police, prosecutors and courts – from a historical perspective.
"My hope is that this perspective will give students – who are already quite engaged in the national conversation surrounding the deaths of Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, and others – a useful set of tools for making sense of what is happening right now," said Adam Ewing, Ph.D., an assistant professor in VCU's Department of African American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
Ewing will teach the course, "Ferguson, USA: Race and Criminal Justice in Historical Perspective," in the spring semester at VCU.
The university is hoping to make parts of the course – public lectures, and possibly class discussions – available to the general public through online participation as a massive open online course, also known as a MOOC.
The course, Ewing said, was inspired by discussions in the Department of African American Studies after the announcement of the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, as well as protests by VCU students.
The events in Ferguson have been dispiriting, but they have also revealed the commitment of a new generation of Americans to demand a nation that is more compassionate, unified and just.
"The events in Ferguson have been dispiriting, but they have also revealed the commitment of a new generation of Americans to demand a nation that is more compassionate, unified and just," he said.
The course will feature guest speakers who will share their personal experiences with the criminal justice system, and it will encourage students to consider ways in which academic work at VCU can be used as a bridge to community involvement, Ewing said.
"We may never have a full accounting of what happened between Brown and Wilson on Aug. 9," Ewing wrote in the course description. "But the events in Ferguson can be placed within – and can help illuminate – a long history of African-American encounters with law enforcement officers and with the criminal justice system. This course seeks to trace those encounters, beginning in the era of slavery and ending with the events of the past several months."
Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., chair of the Department of African American Studies, said the new course will be part of a larger effort by the department to examine recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere.
"The course is only one part of a series of events planned for the spring to elevate the discussion on race and criminal justice in the U.S. In addition to the course, we plan to hold a university forum in mid-spring," he said.
The course was listed on Dec. 4. It was completely filled in less than five hours.
Feature image at top: A scene from a student protest related to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo from Maya Earls.
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