Almost one year ago, the Park Class of 2022 traveled to Washington, D.C., to learn about leadership through the lens of mass incarceration, an issue in the United States that disproportionately affects minority communities in general, and Black communities in particular. Mass incarceration, economic inequality, and police brutality are connected elements of racial injustice. Prompted by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others, increased public attention to police brutality and systemic racism has led Park Scholars in the Class of 2022 to consider the insights they gained from their Learning Lab experience in a new light.
For many Park Scholars in the Class of 2022, Learning Lab II played a pivotal role in shaping their perspectives on race relations in the U.S. today. Zack Jenio ’22, a rising junior, shares that he had never been exposed to an in-depth examination of systemic racism and attributes a lot of his knowledge and understanding of the topic to his Learning Lab II experience. “Looking at leadership through the lens of mass incarceration exposed me to the fact that racial injustices have been ingrained into our society ever since the founding of America,” he says.
Similarly, Liam Dao ’22 explains that while he still has a lot to learn, Learning Lab II played a vital role in informing his perception of systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement. “Racism is something that needs to be discussed and taught about more,” he says. “I believe that the current Black Lives Matter movement and protests have opened more eyes to the systemic racism that is still in place.” Dao hopes the current movement will motivate people to implement changes through legislative action, advocacy, and everyday conversations.
Hearing from national leaders on criminal justice reform provided unique insights for the Class of 2022. For some students, the simple act of listening was transformative. “Listening to the experiences of people outside of my racial and economic background was what was most helpful in guiding my understanding of today’s national discourse on race,” says Alexa Roland ’22.
Others share that because of this experience, they feel more informed and confident in discussing and confronting racial injustice. While the persistence of racism wasn’t news to Beth Rodgers ’22, she credits her Learning Lab II experience with making her even more passionate about ending mass incarceration and systemic racism as a whole. “With facts and information, I feel empowered to share with others exactly why massive change should be demanded by every person who believes in ‘justice for all,’” Rodgers explains. Lauren Warner ’22 agrees. She points to growing awareness of discrepancies in sentencing, plea deals, and imprisonment rates as an indication of increased knowledge of systemic racism and its implications.
Learning Lab II provided a pathway for scholars in the Park Class of 2022 to explore the deep roots of systemic racism. The protests happening today are not only a response to the tragic murders of Black men and women, but an anguished cry from centuries of oppressive racial realities. Black Lives Matter is more than just a movement against police brutality, it is a vessel through which non-Black people can come together to support and elevate the Black community.