The Norman Transcript

April 15, 2014

Social justice dialogue part of University of Oklahoma program

By Jocelyn Pedersen
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma kicked off Justice Week with a public forum Monday titled “Luis Rodriguez: No en Vano.”

Critically acclaimed author, Esmeralda Santiago discussed the “Transformative Power of Art,” while joining five panelists who discussed race, media, politics and social justice to raise awareness about the death of Luis Rodriguez, a former Norman resident originally from Puerto Rico who died during a confrontation with off-duty police officers.

Rodriguez was breaking up a disagreement between his wife and youngest daughter at the Moore Warren Theatre when five security officers approached him.

Although he carried no weapon, officers handcuffed him and took him to the ground. His wife and daughter stood by. Rodriguez was later pronounced dead in the early morning of Feb. 15. The medical examiner’s office has since ruled the incident a homicide.

Dialogue during the Justice Week event was key.

“We wanted to provide an academic space where students, faculty, staff, colleagues and members of the OU and community at large could raise important issues and model how difficult discussions can take place,” said Meta G. Carstarphen, Ph.D., director of graduate programs in the College of Journalism and event coordinator.

The purpose of the program was three-fold: to provide public dialogue, acknowledge Rodriguez’s death and work proactively to support reconciliation and healing and to build the community around his family to provide them with a forum that will help them tell their stories.

Rodriguez’s daughter, Yashira Rodriguez, said that for her family, it isn’t about vengeance.

“We’re not against the police,” Rodriguez said. “We’re against the police who use their badges to abuse people.”

Speakers included Carstarphen, Jeanette Davidson, Ph.D., Robert Kerr, Ph.D., Maria-Elena Diaz, Ph.D., attorney Marcus J. Bivines, MaryAnn Martin, Ph.D., and Lena Khader.

The event opened with the ballad “Angelitos Negros,” or “Black Angels,” and dancers Omar Humphrey and Kisoh O’Neal Monroe from OU’s Modern Dance department performed “Up the Mountain” under the direction of Derek Minter.

Discussion at the event included topics such as social reaction to police brutality, commentary about police wearing cameras and the difference between police and community reaction toward white citizens and those of color.

Statistics surrounding racial inequality in the social justice system were brought to light.

Speakers also discussed ways to eliminate racial inequality where it still exists.

Additionally, legal terms surrounding civil versus criminal acts, wrongful death and wrongful death under cover of authority were defined and put in context.

Further exchange examined journalists and the way they cover events, as well as engaging high school students in discussions about social justice.

Rodriguez spoke on behalf of her family and said her dad was a peacemaker and would forgive without ever being asked. After the panel discussion, Santiago put into perspective the ways art can help in the healing process.

Following the panel discussion, there was an Open Hands, Open Hearts candlelight walk from Gaylord Hall to Wagner Hall, where participants wrote and decorated notes to the Rodriguez family during the “Notes from the heART” event.

Others decorated votive candleholders to take home as a memento of the evening’s events.

“The Luis Rodriguez: No en Vano” event kicked off a series of events for Justice Week, which Maria del Guadalupe Davidson, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Social Justice, said is a way to promote dialogue among students and the community.

“I see Justice Week as a chance to highlight social justice programming across campus,” Davidson said. “I also see it as a way that faculty are working to link the classroom and the community — theory and practice. We hope to promote positive student engagement in the community.”

Other Justice Week events include “Art and Activism,” featuring Center for Social Justice Activist-in-Residence Claudia Bernardi, at 7 p.m. today at Gould Hall, 830 Van Vleet Oval, Rm. 155.

A “Teach in on Race” will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Molly Shi Boren Ballroom of the Oklahoma Memorial Union, 900 Asp Ave. “Decolonizing My History: Cherokee Linguistics and Cherokee Medicine,” featuring Waleila Carey, is slated for 6 p.m. Thursday at Gould Hall, 830 Van Vleet Oval, Room 155.

To learn more, visit, contact The Center for Social Justice at 325-5787 or visit

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