A founder of the Black Lives Matter movement heads to the University of Montana this week to kick off DiverseU's annual forum about diversity.
Patrisse Cullors will be at the University Center Ballroom from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2. Cullors was named by the Los Angeles Times as a "Civil Rights Leader for the 21st Century" and has delivered keynote addresses at more than 12 campuses this year, including Cornell University and the University of Notre Dame, according to her online biography.
At UM, Cullors will speak about the Black Lives Matter movement and participate in a Q&A at an event that's free and open to the public.
"The most important thing is that we're not trying to cater to people of a certain opinion," said Chloe Reynolds, coordinator for DiverseU. "We're trying to get people from diverse backgrounds and differing opinions to come talk to each other because I think that's the only way we can learn about topics like this."
DiverseU is an annual symposium launched more than a decade ago under former UM vice president of student affairs Teresa Branch, said Adrianne Donald, associate director of the University Center. Faculty, staff and students present sessions on topics related to diversity and social justice.
The Black Lives Matter movement started in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black man. In 2012, Zimmerman fatally shot Martin, 17, in a Florida neighborhood.
In recent years, national attention has turned to fatal law enforcement shootings of unarmed black men, and this fall, institutional racism was a topic in at least one presidential debate. According to an analysis published in 2016 by the Washington Post, "black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers."
However, the Black Lives Matter website notes the movement goes beyond race and gun violence, and it aims to address "all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state."
"The Black Lives Matter is kind of a huge deal right now, and we're just trying to start that conversation on campus," said Reynolds, a junior and journalism major. "DiverseU is all about starting dialogue and civic discourse. And having a speaker from Black Lives Matter is part of that."
Earlier this semester, the posters advertising the event were removed, re-posted, and removed again, Donald said.
"We do believe they were intentionally removed," Donald said.
The third time around, DiverseU placed the posters in hard-to-reach areas.
But many people have expressed interest in the event, Reynolds said. The coordinator believes that many people assume Montana lacks diversity because it's largely white.
"But obviously, that's not true," Reynolds said. "There's all different kinds of diversity. We do have a lot of students from various ethnic backgrounds, and I think at least showing that we are willing to have this conversation and campus is a place where that can happen is sending a good message."
Reynolds also said it's tricky to ensure the event will draw a wide representation of the campus community and won't just preach to the choir.
"You can never really tell who is going to show up, but we're just trying to blast this event out and hope that people of various opinions show up."