On Thursday, Sept. 26, the Mercer University Macon campus held a panel discussion titled “The Case of Trayvon Martin: Legal, Ethical, and Civil Rights Perspectives.”
The event was organized by the Mercer Lyceum, whose year-long theme is “Racial Justice in America: Where Are We Now?” and thus coordinated with Mercer’s celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Integration. The panel discussion, which later opened the floor for audience questions and commentary, incorporated Mercer’s 2013 theme “Looking Back, Moving Forward: Celebrating a Half-Century of Integration at Mercer University.”
According to an article published in the Aug. 28, 2011, issue of The Cluster titled “Lyceum aims to educate, inspire,” the Mercer Lyceum, started in 2011, is a program designed to “plan university-wide events that follow the theme of morally transformative learning, service and student life.”
Dr. Craig McMahan, moderator of the panel discussion, addressed the audience stating, “It struck me as ironic that now 50 years after that milestone, [of voluntary integration], we are still needing to ask the question of ‘Where are we in terms of justice in the United States?’” He continued, “In the last year, there’s nothing that has called us to ask that question more poignantly and more painfully than the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, a 17-year-old in Sanford, Fla.”
McMahan continued, “We want to come and examine the legal, the moral and the religious implications of [the case]. As a culture and as a community, we want to put that whole tragic situation on the table, where there are still a lot of feelings about what happened and what didn’t. We want to be part of the conversation together, both the faculty members and with [the audience].”
Following the introduction by McMahan, each panelist had 12 minutes to present an argument or valid statements about the case and its implications.
The faculty panel was composed of four Mercer University professors. Dr. Teri McMurtry-Chubb is an associate professor of law at Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law. Dr. Timothy Floyd is a professor of law and director of the law and public service program in the Walter F. George School of Law. Dr. David Gushee is the distinguished university professor of Christian ethics, the director of the Center of Theology and Public Life, and the coordinator of the Mercer Lyceum. McMahan, acting as moderator, is the Mercer University minister and dean of chapel.
During the discussion, Gushee commented, “I hope that Mercer is consistently teaching a restlessness and discontent for [violent racial] instances and [teach] a hunger for justice.”
Furthermore, Floyd addressed Mercer students saying, “Never lose your passion and anger at injustice.”
Upon conclusion, Dr. Marilyn P. Mindingall, senior vice provost for administration and special programs, stated, “I thought [the discussion] was excellent: going beyond the feelings that we have regarding a trial such as this, in that we are forced to look at ourselves and how we interact with others. That plays a key role in these types of situations.” She continued, “I think they [addressed] the reality of the limitations of the legal system as well. It’s not a perfect system by any means. If we expect everything to happen through the legal system and policy and we’re not doing our part, then I think we’re missing the boat.”
Joshua Crawford, a Mercer University junior, said, “I felt that everyone on the panel understood what they needed and brought proper background information. For example, [Professor Floyd] was able to tell the law in a clear manner.”
McMurtry-Chubb reflected saying, “I think that [the panel] was very effective in having a good dialogue about this event in a way that wasn’t inflammatory. Hopefully it will cause [Mercer students] into action and to actually develop some programming around social justice issues that faculty can support and the community can support as well.”
Floyd stated, “I’m quite pleased. Our goal was to have an open conversation and I think we had that. I think both my colleagues did a great job in setting a tone that way. A lot of the questions and conversations afterwards were the kind of things that we hope that students will listen to and follow through with.”
This discussion is the first of many to come throughout the year as a part of Mercer Lyceum’s theme of the racial justice question and Mercer University’s integration celebration.