Reverend sparks debate across campus


Leah Ulatowski, Editor-in-Chief

Speaker Serene Jones created debate on campus after presenting a lecture on the topic of economic inequality in America and how race relations factor into the issue.

Jones, who is an ordained minister in both the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ, spoke on Jan. 20. According to students who attended the convocation, about a dozen individuals left during the lecture.

Jones described a fishing trip that she took with tourists who identified themselves as members of the Tea Party. She discovered similarities between the group members and Occupy Wall Street students, but the biggest difference was their view on race.

“The Tea Party members on that trip are terrified of an imagined Hulk Hogan-like monster called the black and Latino community that’s going to stop them from joining in any discussion of a joint economic overhaul and signals the death of our nation,” Jones said.

Jacque Roerdink, junior sociology major, penned a letter to President of Lakeland College Dan Eck after the convocation and shared it with The Mirror.

“As much as she feels sorry for the black community and what is happening to our nation, she didn’t mention the officers that have been brutally murdered as a result of the protests in Ferguson,” Roerdink wrote.

Another major point of disagreement for Roerdink and James Lutze, sophomore criminal justice major, was Jones’ views of the National Guard.

“Surrounding it (the police department in Ferguson) were 40 national guards in full riot gear, meaning the camouflage clothes that you use in war … and they had machine guns not over their shoulders but in their arms,” Jones said in her lecture. “What is the message being sent by that militarized presence in the middle of our nation?”

Roerdink said, “As I was offended by a woman who I thought would be a positive Christian example of peace and love, the Iraq war veteran sitting by me began to clench his fist. When I looked over at him, I saw tears in his eyes. He ended up walking out of the convocation … I would be offended as well if I fought for a person’s freedom of speech only to hear them mock the National Guard and all our nation stands for.”

Lutze, who is prior military, was frustrated with Jones’ lack of proper terminology.

“The ‘war camouflage’ that she spoke of is a uniform that is worn at all times by the military. Period. They only wear something else when an event calls for dress uniform,” Lutze said. “Then she said they had machine guns in their arms. She made a gesture as holding up a firearm and pointing it at the audience.

“You do not go in for riot control with machine guns. They are M4 or a semi-automatic firearm. A machine gun is a fully automatic gun. No one is going to be standing for hours with a 25 pound gun in their arms. The fact that she called Ferguson a warzone is disrespectful. She has never been to war nor would she know what it looks like.”

Other students enjoyed and agreed with Jones’ presentation.

“Things that she was saying were true. People sometimes feel uncomfortable because they feel conviction. This was not a race thing but a world thing,” said Josh Guy, junior exercise science major. “When the topic of race comes up, many may not be able to take the information and see that change is needed. I believe that the world should not be about race but about finding love and helping each other.”

College Chaplain Rob Sizemore had the opportunity to spend considerable time with Jones during her visit.

“(Jones) is a person of deep faith, passionate about social justice and compassionate about those who suffer from systemic injustice,” Sizemore said. “I think the facts that she had never been to Wisconsin, has spent her professional career in New Haven and NYC and spoke more from her passion and experience than her manuscript created a gap between what she was saying and what a number of students were hearing. Without these barriers, the core message she was trying to communicate would have resonated with most of our students even if not the specific solutions.”

Sizemore said that Jones received news of a loved one’s death while boarding the plane to Wisconsin but chose to honor her commitment. He could tell that she was slightly distracted during the lecture.

“I’m glad students have responded to her presentation with such energy,” Sizemore said. “Healthy debate is the result of solid, critical thinking and I commend our students for that.”