Record-Breaking Audience Attends Racial and Cultural Understanding Event

More than 750 students, faculty and staff packed Duquesne University’s Power Center Ballroom on Feb. 13 to hear experts, scholars and professionals candidly discuss race and police, and Muslims and immigration at the inaugural program of a new series on civil discourse created by Duquesne President Ken Gormley.

Racial and Cultural Understanding in a New Era featured the panel discussions Race and Police: Building Trust in Communities and Muslims, Immigration and the American Dream, each of which included a question-and-answer session. Esther Bush, president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and David Hickton, former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, served as moderators at the standing-room only event.

“Esther Bush and Dave Hickton both have vast experience with civil discourse, and they understand the importance of treating all members of our society fairly and equally,” said Gormley. “They have spent their careers committed to living out this philosophy and serving as role models for others.”

Before beginning the first panel, both Bush and Hickton gave brief remarks, sharing their thoughts on the event’s focus. “For ours to be a first-class nation, there cannot be any second-class citizens,” said Bush during her opening remarks.

Hickton added, “Our country depends on active citizenships—we need you to get involved.”

Tracey McCants Lewis, assistant clinical professor in Duquesne’s School of Law, joined Coleman McDonough, superintendent of Allegheny County Police, for the Race and Police panel. The group talked about subjects such as racial bias in suspects, officers and communities at large as well as community involvement in policing.

McCants Lewis addressed the militarization of police, describing it as a problem that has led to a loss of trust with communities. McDonough discussed body cameras serving as good tools for police to gather evidence but that “they’re not the entire picture.”

Participants in the Muslims, Immigration and the American Dream panel included:

  • Imam AbduSemi’h Tádése, director of religious affairs, Islamic University Center
  • Lawrence M. Lebowitz, chair of immigration group, Cohen & Grigsby, PC
  • Dr. Emad Mirmotahari, associate professor of English and African studies in Duquesne’s McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts.

This panel’s discussion covered topics including the similarities and misconceptions of different faiths; perceptions in the United States and abroad of President Donald Trump’s executive order and travel ban; constitutional issues with the travel ban; and views of Islam from immigrant and foreign perspectives.

Also during the event, Gormley invited Duquesne law student Fayezah Hassan to the stage to discuss her parents being forced to flee from Iran to Afghanistan for defending religious minority groups. In addition to sharing her personal story, Hassan reiterated to audience members the significance of the event’s topics “this is an important discussion that will affect you on many levels.”

During his concluding remarks, Gormley announced that discussions from the Racial and Cultural Understanding in a New Era event will continue at two student events on campus.The Hon. Ronald Wilson, former chief presiding judge for the City of South Tucson in Arizona will host the conversation Immigration and the American Dream on Monday, Feb. 27, at 6 p.m. in the Africa Room.

In addition, officers from Duquesne’s Department of Public Safety and the City of Pittsburgh will join School of Law representatives to discuss Community Policing and College-Aged Constituents on Monday, March 27, at 7 p.m. in the Towers’ Multipurpose Room.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University's academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim. 

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