When news broke that a grand jury had declined to indict a white police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, Yale students — most of whom were away from campus for Thanksgiving — took to Facebook.
“Even though I was in New Mexico, far away from most major demonstrations, the texts, pictures and updates I was receiving mimicked the solidarity I would feel had I attended a rally or protest,” Anya Markowitz ’17 said.
Markowitz said that the discussion on Facebook, while imperfect, has been a crucial outlet for her personal engagement with the Ferguson case.
Others said they approved of how debates conducted on Facebook tackling issues of race, the criminal justice system and inequality were conducted. With countless posts and comments appearing in the days after the decision, some said they were pushed to quickly jump into a debate charged with emotion.
“I told myself I wouldn’t get involved in arguments about race and minority issues on Facebook, but I couldn’t help it when I saw some of the opinions that people posted on those forums,” Ivonne Gonzalez ’16 said. “I reacted aggressively because these issues mean a lot to me.”
In order to voice her own frustrations, Claire Zhang ’15 said she wrote an essay that she published on her Facebook profile, in which she drew upon literature to convey her disappointment with the decision to not indict Wilson.
Quoting David Foster Wallace and Ralph Ellison, Zhang argued that “we need to know and we need to be aware.”
Seeing others expressing the same sentiments on Facebook as her own, Zhang added, made her comfortable sharing her own opinion.
“Students, I think, are more willing to listen and reconsider their opinions and paradigms, especially during this stage of life where we’re really trying to figure ourselves out and think about these things,” she said.
While Markowitz said that Facebook makes it easier to mindlessly respond to a comment and antagonize someone who shares an opposite opinion, she agreed with Zhang, adding that Facebook helps fight apathy because it offers a tool to feel less immobilized by grief or sadness.
Still, Zhang suggested that online forums can prevent students from sharing opinions perceived as unpopular, therefore preventing a fair debate.
“If you only have a feed of the same ideas over and over, that can be a little dangerous, so I think it’s important to try to share as many opinions as possible,” she said.
Eshe Sherley ’16 said that conversations about Ferguson will inevitably begin shortly after students return to campus. On Monday at 12:01 p.m. — the time Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 this year — nearly 500 students are expected to walk out of classes, meals and other events as part of a national public demonstration against the grand jury’s decision.
Aria Thaker ’15 said she will be attending the Walk Out after being unable to attend demonstrations while at home in New York for the Thanksgiving break.
“I hope to stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and all the people at Yale, especially those in the black community, who are affected by police brutality,” she said.
Hershel Holiday ’18 said that especially on a campus as diverse as Yale, it is important for people to step back and objectively examine the debates without inserting their personal biases.
“Ultimately what needs to happen in talks about race is for people to learn how to be uncomfortable,” he said. “So many conversations about race relations either are smoothed over or don’t happen at all, because white people want to feel comfortable around their minority friends and co-workers.”