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Emory Law News Center

Ferguson Movement instructors give mini course during panel discussion

A. Kenyatta Greer |

Management professors, historians, tax law teachers and medical professionals –  a seemingly unrelated bunch – joined with other colleagues from the Emory University community to describe their work in an interdisciplinary course called “The Ferguson Movement: Power, Politics and Protest” offered in the fall of 2015. Recently, Emory University School of Law hosted a panel discussion about the course, gathering the professors who are contributing for a look into their sections of the in-demand class. Dorothy Brown, professor of law and senior advisor to the provost, was co-convener of the course and moderator of the discussion.

The Ferguson Movement is what’s called a “university course,” one designed to bring faculty and students from various units within the university to learn about and address an issue of common concern.

The scholars who participated in teaching the course were tasked with instructing for 1.5 hours on a topic that is related to their personal research and how it connected with the social and political responses to the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.

Dorothy Brown, professor of law and co-convener of the course, was excited to implement the course but unsure how she’d have the time to teach it. Instead of doing it all herself, she helped to develop the interdisciplinary “university course.”

Photo credit: Kay Hinton

Brown’s section of the course, as she explained during the panel, explored state and local tax issues in Ferguson, citing the limits that the cities have to raise revenue. Ferguson could not raise taxes, she suggested, but the city raised revenue through tickets and fines. “It was a system designed to fund the city coffers disproportionately off of the black population.” The city was, she said, “basically balancing the budget off the backs of those poor citizens.”

Fred Smith, a visiting professor to Emory University School of Law, will teach next in the program and plans to use his time describing his interviews of residents in Ferguson, along with his personal research, to broach the topic of immunity that shields local governments and their police officers from prosecution. Smith explained to the audience, regarding a government’s need to protect its representatives, "It's not to say that federalism has no place, but accountability does, too."

Other speakers included:

Carol Anderson, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American studies, and Department Chair, who specializes in human rights and US cold war foreign policy. She looked at disenfranchisement at the polls and helped students understand the lasting effect of poll taxes and other measures to affect the vote. 

Anwar Osborne MD, assistant professor of medicine, who also covered disenfranchisement in his section with the students, though he framed his discussion on healthcare as a human right and the lack of parity in healthcare and emergency care literacy between the races

Leslie Harris, Associate Professor and historian who has a research interest on slavery, who asked what the connection is between the pre-Civil War period and today. She drew a line between slavery and freedom in the US and the belief that black bodies require violence to be controlled.

Erika Hall, assistant professor of organization and management, who engaged students in experimental analysis to isolate race and see if bias still exists or if these instances of violence against young, black men are just one-offs

Beth Corrie, associate professor in the practice of youth education and peacebuilding and director of the Youth Theological Initiative, who introduced students to the intersection between the black freedom struggle and Palestine solidarity. 

Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science, who discussed social media and public opinion to guide students through the history of public opinion with respect to racial issues

Bernard LaFayette, activist and former distinguished senior scholar in residence, who talked about the history of racism in America and called upon his fellow panelists to continue and expand their research beyond the course

Michael Owens, associate professor of political science, who is scheduled to teach later in the semester will get students thinking about political participation and protest.

The talk exploring the course was sponsored by the the law school, the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence, which offers the university course, and the Employee Council.