By Sol Ayala
Online Media Writer
Selah Torralba was doing her job as ASB director of inclusion and belonging and preparing for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations for students when the notifications on her phone alerted her to the news of Tyre Nichols’ death in Memphis.
Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, was pulled over by Memphis police officers and beaten. He died three days later.
“Here we are experiencing the murder of an innocent black man and it’s like, how are these two things existing at the same time in such extremes,” Torralba said.
After hearing from students after the release of the footage of Nichols’ death, Trevecca leaders have said they plan to create groups that meet regularly for students to discuss the trauma and concerns they have.
“We have experienced another trauma as a country, and like me, many of you may be trying to find the right words. We are being intentional about helping our students process,” said Terrence Schofield, associate provost of mission excellence and reconciliation, in a statement sent to students and faculty.
Schofield and faculty acknowledge events like this can trigger students. That is why professors in the social work department started conversations among students during class, giving them a space where students could grieve and understand what is going on a few hours away from campus.
“I peripherally was hearing about it, and I think it went to my brain like another police killing,” said Allison Buzard, program director and assistant professor of social work. “We categorized the amount of social trauma we are taking, and so I had that initial reaction of another one and it sounds brutal. And then I started seeing a lot more of it when the Memphis police released the videos.”
Support for students outside of classrooms was provided during the counseling center’s open hours. There were also group sessions in the Tidwell conference room and the chaplain’s office.
One-on-one spaces for support were available on the third floor of the McClurkan building for students who wanted to disclose and seek help privately.
“I talked to students, and some of them don’t feel like they have a place to vent,” said Schofield.
After hearing students talk about their concerns and fears, Schofield knew they needed more regular spaces to process. Schofield spoke with President Dan Boone and suggested recurring group resources.
“He asked pretty point blank, ‘Would it be helpful if there were spaces for students to just share? You don’t need to sugar coat anything, you don’t need to filter,’ ” Torralba said. “It would be a space to just honor your experiences and talk about it, facilitated by Schofield or faculty.”
The goal is to create a monthly group meeting
“My job is not to speak for you. My job is to give you a voice,” Schofield said.
The vision for this time is to have students stop by with no agenda, Schofield said. He hopes the groups would be a confidential, voluntary, free-of-judgment place for students and faculty to open up and talk about the issues they are facing and hear what others have to say as things evolve.
One of the main concerns for the group is guaranteeing confidentiality, but Schofield is committed to working on setting the tone and building trust each time the group will meet.
By inviting faculty and students together, a generational disconnect is expected to happen, but letting others speak and know when to remain silent would help serve the purpose of creating space.
“These spaces, if done right, are going to ask for reciprocated vulnerability and confidentiality on both sides,” Torralba said.
Offering ways for students to reflect on their emotions about the outside world can have a positive impact for students on campus. Schofield and the faculty at Trevecca are hoping that inviting students to reflect on critical topics can help them understand their fear, and from there, learn to handle grief better.
“The results of vulnerable, compassionate, honoring, validating spaces are so rich and worth the risk,” Torralba said.
More information about the groups will be released as soon, according to Schofield.
“It is definitely a lot to be black in America,” said Maya Smith, events coordinator for Walden.