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A Stetson University sociology professor has arranged a series of panels to explore “Race in the 21st Century.” There have been five so far, and all of them are available for viewing.

The latest panel brought together DeLand Police Chief Jason Umberger and Lakeland Assistant Chief of Police Hans Lehman for a talk about police and community interactions during routine traffic stops.

Dr. Sharmaine Jackson told The Beacon she decided to start the panels after seeing discussions about race falter.

“I call it race fatigue — all the conversation can make people tired. Talking about these things can cause tension and uncomfortable feelings,” Jackson said. “We’re so afraid and don’t want to say the wrong thing, so we say nothing. But if we don’t talk about it, how do we solve it?”

Enter the virtual panels, which are open to the public. They’ve ranged in topic from students’ experiences during protests, to jazz and race, and how local artists navigate race in art, as well as the talks with law enforcement.

“These panels are really aimed to create that space to have those types of conversations … to make visible the invisible, so it can’t be hidden,” Jackson said. “Once we acknowledge it — acknowledge racism has always been there, and we’re moving around it all the time — we have to decide what to do with it. When we are aware of it, when we know the truth, we have to act on the truth.”

Umberger, who was hired in 2017 in part to address racial tension and community relations in DeLand, has been a proponent of progressive community policing. He requires all of DeLand’s officers to attend implicit bias training.

On Sept. 25, Umberger spoke to the panel about the inherent bias all humans share.

“Every human being has bias, regardless of their ethnicity. And that includes police officers — we’re human beings,” Umberger said. “If we’re motivated to be fair and impartial, we can self-regulate — that’s what social science tells us. And, that we can produce bias-free behavior, and have controlled responses and controlled processes. As long as we’re aware of our biases, we are motivated to address it.”

Jackson talked about the courage it takes to address one’s own bias.

“Sometimes we don’t want to face these things, right, ‘Don’t tell me about it, now I have to do something about it.’ But there is always a price to pay for that. What we ignore will continue to ask itself to be resolved — all injustices do,” she told The Beacon.

“We worked to eradicate Native Americans — but they still stand, still tell their stories, still seek resolution. These things have a way of needing resolution. Anything in our lives we ignore, all these things will ask for resolution, redemption, atonement,” Jackson said. “We can move there, we can have a new day. But, if we keep moving back into that safe space, we can’t be free.”

The one-hour panels are broadcast via a Zoom link every Friday, which is posted here, and past panels can be accessed on YouTube. An Instagram page is also found here.

This Friday, Oct. 9, at 3 p.m., the subject is mass incarceration and the role of higher education. Speakers include team members from Stetson’s Community Education Project, a higher-education program conducted at Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach. The link to attend this panel is found here.

There is also a special panel this Thursday, Oct. 8, at 8 p.m. dedicated to the vice presidential debate.

The panels will continue through the school year.


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