The arrest of more than 70 students and others last Wednesday (February 1, 2017), at a peaceful protest and sit-in at Ohio University’s Baker Center, has brought home to Athens and Ohio University a deeply troubling trend in our national dialogue around race, religion, justice, and civil rights. While there may be differing opinions as to the extent of the “disruption” created by the protesters (for instance, those attending an event in the Front Room that evening might have experienced the large protest just outside differently from those who witnessed part of the protest in person or via streaming video), there is no “alternative” to the fact that in a situation that was escalated by the presence and action of a large number of local law enforcement personnel as well as a few counter-protesters, no person or persons emerged to play the role of a mediating presence that might have been able to de-escalate the situation.
As a campus minister who serves the Ohio University and Athens communities, I wish with all my heart that I had been there. Had I not been fully engaged elsewhere in another part of my role, I would have been there. Not because I am uniquely qualified to serve as a mediating presence—there are many in this community who could do that better, and some of them hold positions of much greater power and influence that might have been of help in defusing the situation. No, I wish I had been there because part of what we do here is to “walk toward trouble.” And that’s the discouraging trend we see—the dwindling willingness of people who should know better to do the same: to show up and engage and to help mediate tense and potentially conflictual situations. We can do better than this.

If the last couple of weeks are any indication, the coming weeks and months are likely to offer many more opportunities to “walk toward trouble.” I hope, intend, and expect to rise to those occasions. For the sake of the students and community members who will be continuing to stand up and speak out for justice and inclusion in the face of rising fear, mistrust, and bias, I hope we all do. I would hate for Ohio University to become a place where principled and public expressions of dissent draw to them not compassionate concern and engagement, but silent acquiescence to heavy-handed suppression. If you agree, perhaps we can find ways to work on this together.
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