Webster University student Josh Johnson said his aunt lives near the QuikTrip in Ferguson that burned down in the riots. While driving to the aunt’s house, Johnson’s mother told him to look to the right. He saw the destroyed gas station. Seeing his aunt live so close to that station scared him.
On the other hand, student Tanner Craft, who is white, recalled how he and his friend were pulled over for speeding. Craft did not think much of it. However, he said his friend, who is black and a typically calm person, was shaking. Craft said seeing his friend’s reaction made it clear how much things had changed.
The shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, unarmed black men, had an effect for students in a particular first year seminar class at Webster University.
The first year seminar is titled “Black Lives Matter.” The class is taught by Michael Jostedt, an adjunct faculty member in the philosophy department. The course deals with issues of race, police brutality, the movement of the same name, the media portrayal of the events of Ferguson and the history of race relations in St. Louis. Students are encouraged to provide their personal stories of dealing with racism.
Jostedt’s emphasis in philosophy are race and feminism. He had previously taught a course about issues and ethics in Ferguson. When the opportunity came up to pick a topic for his first year seminar, he chose Black Lives Matter.
Jostedt said he thought it would be a relevant topic to students, but the course did not fill up right away. For Jostedt, the shooting deaths of Martin and Brown did not surprise him.
Jostedt said he was, however, surprised the shootings just recently gained national coverage, as shooting deaths of African American men have been a problem throughout the history of the United States.
“It was depressing and just makes you feel hopeless,” Jostedt said.
When it comes to media coverage of shootings, Jostedt looks into how African-Americans and police officers are portrayed when an incident occurs. He said he has found that in these situations, the victim is often portrayed in a negative light.
Jostedt, who is white, said it is valid to ask why he is teaching a course on the movement. He said he would love to hand the class to a person of color, but the fact is that in the area of philosophy, diversity is an issue amongst people of color and women. He said he went on with the class because he felt it would not get taught any other way.
The students, including Aevion Dancy, agreed the killing of unarmed black men has become all too common.
“It made me want to try to do something about it,” Dancy said.
Jostedt said he sees the course as a collaborative effort on his and the students’ side. There is no textbook for the class.
“We’re kind of figuring this out as a class,” Jostedt said.