Students discuss race, U.S. prison system at documentary screening

A screening of the film "13th" on Friday allowed students to share their thoughts about racial discrimination and the Presidential election.

Syracuse University’s Pre-Law Chapter of the National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA) held a screening of the Ava DuVernay-directed documentary 13th on Friday night. The film, displayed in 114 Hall of Languages, was followed by a multi-part discussion about the film and its content.

NBLSA, a nationwide organization of black law students focused on fostering “socially conscious” legal professionals, held the event in collaboration with La Lucha, a student organization dedicated to raising awareness of issues affecting Latino students in Syracuse University and beyond.

"Having seen students who have grown up in the same community as me have different outcomes than me, it’s hard.”
- Francis Morency

Francis Morency, the NBLSA Pre-Law Chapter’s President and host of the event, said the partnership with La Lucha is part of a larger effort to unite students of different backgrounds to discuss issues affecting the university at large.

“We want to get different perspectives on board, get different perspectives in the picture that we’re trying to create at Syracuse University,” Morency said. “As NBLSA we want to push that conversation forward, and show that different orgs don’t have to be alone in this conversation. They can partner up in order to help the entire university.”

The film shown at the event, 13th, chronicles the history of the modern prison system in the United States, and how its laws have changed since President Richard Nixon declared his “war on drugs.” The film makes the argument that the policies enacted since then, especially under Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton, helped the country to continue the practices of slavery by labeling disproportionately large groups of black and Hispanic Americans as felons.

Morency, an international relations and African-American studies senior interested in pursuing a career in law, said that he found it important to show the film to other students interested in entering the legal field or advocating for social change.

“It’s a great intersection between policy and humanity,” Morency said. “Discussing how the prison industry has been set up and having people here who have been affected by the prison industry as U.S. citizens, I think it’s important to bring that narrative and conversation to undergraduate students, especially as public figures, as lawmakers, as policymakers and as lawyers in the future who are going to be talking and influencing these issues in the future.”

Morency added that the film’s topics held a special resonance with him, being a person of color from a community affected by the modern state of the U.S. prison system.

“Even beyond being a person who wants to go into law, having people in my community who have been affected by the school-to-prison pipeline, having seen students who have grown up in the same community as me have different outcomes than me, it’s hard,” Morency said.

Much of the discussion following the screening focused on the implications of the election on people of color in the United States. The film was initially released about a month before election day, but it features many of President-elect Donald Trump’s comments about protesters, Mexican immigrants and African-Americans to frame his ideology in the larger history of institutional racism in America.

Dwayne Ellmore, a television, radio and film sophomore in attendance at the event, expressed his concern with the election’s results in the context of the film’s topics at large.

“The fact that it’s 2016 and we’re still having these problems is unfortunate,” Ellmore said. “It’s going to be very difficult. I think that the fact that a candidate that saw it as a problem lost is going to make it very difficult for fighting it in the future.”

Morency, who said he didn’t anticipate the election’s results to dominate the discussion, said the “pain” people continue to feel about its results hasn’t gone anywhere.

“The wound is still fresh."

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.