|Student Forum explores social concerns in D.C.|
Members of the United Methodist Student Movement Steering
Committee prepare the altar for opening worship at Student Forum 2008 in
UMNS photos by Vicki Brown.
By Vicki Brown*
June 12, 2008 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)
More than 400 United Methodist students, campus ministers and young
adult seminarians scattered across the U.S. capital during Student Forum
2008 to learn how they could use their voices to fight for just public
From a panel on the racism of mascots held at the National Museum of the
American Indian to an Anacostia River boat tour focusing on the
environment, the students met with lobbyists, legislative aides, United
Methodist agency officials and a tenants' group that works for equitable
The forum is an annual leadership development event for United Methodist
college students and is sponsored by the United Methodist Board of
Higher Education and Ministry and organized by the United Methodist
Students visit a "green" building during
an immersion trip focusing on
Students attending the May 22-25 forum said 11 immersion trips included in this year's event were eye-opening.
"I didn’t even know what the terms that are used for mascots really
meant," said Heather Haauk, a University of Washington student who
attended the panel discussion about legal efforts to cancel the
trademark registration of the Washington Redskins National Football
The panelists told the students that the word "redskin" refers to the
red blood on the skins or scalps collected by bounty hunters, not skin
"These images are doing emotional violence to our people. We are not
going to be at all polite about it," said Suzan Shown Harjo of the
Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee tribe, who was one of the plaintiffs in
the original lawsuit.
The United Methodist Church has declared the use of Native American names and symbols for sports teams dehumanizing and racist.
Harjo said more than two-thirds of the Native American mascots have been
eliminated in American sports. "There are about 900 left, but there
were over 3,000 when we started this work," she said.
Besides the "Racism of Mascots" trip, students attended immersion
experiences on poverty and homelessness; immigration; HIV/AIDS;
gentrification; the environment; faith and politics; civil rights;
children's rights and public education; women's rights; and health care
and the living wage. Campus ministers attended a separate immersion trip
aimed at engaging student leaders in change.
While Student Forum is held in a different location each spring, holding
this year's event in the U.S. capital provided the opportunity for a
new and different kind of leadership development experience, according
to Jen Heald, the new chairperson of the United Methodist Student
Movement Steering Committee.
Heald praised the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the
Washington-based social advocacy agency of the church, for organizing
the trips and called the experiences a gift "difficult to measure."
"We are not often able to focus on changing the system that is
responsible for putting people in unjust situations." said Heald, a
graduate of the University of Maryland who is entering Emory this fall.
Jen Heald leads a procession carrying planks of wood for the altar
during opening worship.
Student Courtnika Hudson of Paine College said a highlight for her was
the environmental immersion experience. She said the boat tour of the
polluted Anacostia River, the visit to the Sierra Club, and a tour of
the green building of the Friends Commission on National Legislation
gave students a chance "actually see what’s going on."
Hudson was especially impressed with the presentation by Christina
Yagjian of the Sierra Club. "She really pushed us to listen and to think
about things we should do," she said.
John Opoku-Aush, a student at the University of Hawaii, said the tour of
the U-Street Corridor, where much property was burned during riots in
the 1960s, was informative. "Now the subway has come in and there has
been an influx of well-to-do people, so the prices of the homes are
going up," he said.
Craig Stephenson of the University of Missouri was particularly
interested in the presentation on rural schools in South Carolina, along
with a presentation by Jill Morningstar, education policy adviser for
the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor. "She talked about what
to expect in No Child Left Behind," Stephenson said of the embattled
2001 U.S. education law. "I’m a political science major, and education
is my passion."
The Rev. Meg Lassiat, director of Student Ministries, Vocation and
Enlistment for the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said many
prominent people made an effort to take part in the immersion trips
because they felt strongly about speaking to young leaders of the
"We wanted to take advantage of the location to provide a different kind
of leadership development experience, and the work of others in the
United Methodist connection allowed us to do that," Lassiat said. "We
are so grateful to all the church agency staff who put in so much time
organizing the trips and working directly with the students."
The immersion experiences included participants from other
denominations, as well as United Methodist agency staff such as Jim
Winkler, top executive of the Board of Church and Society, and Suanne
Ware-Diaz, a staff executive of the Commission on Religion and Race.
Staff from the Women’s Division of the Board of Global Ministries, Bread
for the World, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Children’s Defense
Fund and many more organizations took part.
"Our hope is that every seminar will lead to some action," said Susan
Burton, director for seminar design at the Board of Church and Society.
"We try to encourage critical thinking about how these issues can be
resolved. One of the most exciting things is to see young people use
their voices, to equip them with the tools to move deeper, to work on
changing the systems."
The students did take action by writing nearly 200 letters to Washington
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder asking him to change the team’s mascot.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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