Tulane University, a top private university in New Orleans, held virtual events dubbed “racial healing spaces” on Wednesday, where students and staff were segregated by race to reflect on the murder conviction of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin the previous day.
Tulane’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion organized three virtual Zoom groups Wednesday evening “for students, faculty, and staff to join together to help bring about racial healing in our community,” the school announced on its website.
After a trial that received intense national scrutiny, Chauvin was found guilty on Tuesday on all three charges, second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, for the murder of George Floyd last May. Chauvin was filmed kneeling on a distressed Floyd’s neck and upper back for nine minutes as Floyd begged for air before he died, kicking off a summer of violent protests and riots across the country.
One of Tulane’s Zoom groups was billed as a space for students, faculty, and staff who identify as black, African-American, or “African Descendants of Enslaved People” to process their responses to the verdict.
“This space offers us an opportunity to explore and process our immediate thoughts and feelings related to the verdict, create a circle of emotional support, and discuss ways that we can transform our pain into activism. This space is trauma-informed which means that you will be supported even if you wish to be present but remain silent,” Tulane said in its description of the first Zoom event.
The moderator for that event, Dr. Jinaki Flint, is a licensed clinical psychologist and an Adjunct Professor of African American Psychology at Tulane. She is also certified in “multicultural counseling,” as well as a consultant on “anti-racism” and “embodied sexuality.”
The second Zoom group was advertised as “White People Examining Anti-Black Racism” and called on white participants to “step up and interrupt our collective legacy of violence.”
The event’s description said it is intended to “support white students, faculty and staff to process the verdict,” as well as “how anti-Blackness manifests in our daily lives, our work and our responses to high profile police murders of Black people.”
“We will look at how anti-Blackness shows up in our ambivalence to state violence, our tendency to play into the ‘white savior complex,’ ways we consciously and unconsciously sabotage Black leadership, and the ways we uphold white supremacy when we prioritize white comfort, ‘order,’ and allegiance to the status quo,” the event description reads.
The moderator for this event is Ben Brubaker, a “white, trans non-binary, disabled poet” who uses the pronoun “they” and is program manager for Social Justice and Student Leadership at the Tulane Center for Public Service.
The third and last event is for “Non-Black People of Color Examining Anti-Black Racism,” and calls on participants to “examine how we have internalized anti-Black racism and ways we can unlearn anti-Black racism in our personal and professional lives.” This event is led by the head of Tulane’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Anneliese Singh, who uses the pronouns “she/they” and authored the “Queer and Trans Resilience Workbook.”
One Tulane student called the events “a ridiculous approach” to fostering dialogue, and added that it is “absurd on its face to think that non-black people of color can all be lumped into one category.”
“I don’t know anyone of any color that thinks that what Derek Chauvin did was justified, and I certainly don’t see how segregating people based on race to talk about our reactions to the verdict creates a dialogue,” said the student, who asked to remain anonymous.
Another student called the Zoom events “racist and discriminatory,” adding that they “can’t believe Tulane would hold an event like that.”
Rachel Altman, a Tulane senior who is Students for Liberty’s Deep South regional coordinator, had a slightly more positive take but said she worried Tulane is missing opportunities for unity.
“Given the fraught history of police brutality and racism in our country, it’s understandable that some Black students might appreciate having their own space to work through their thoughts on the Chauvin verdict,” Altman said.
She added that she wishes Tulane had offered an “integrated option” for the “healing spaces.”
“We all have a lot to learn from one another, and race is only one of many factors that shape people’s experiences,” she said. “Tulane has an opportunity to unite all of its students around working toward solutions to police brutality. It may be missing that opportunity.”