By Sierra Maciorowski

The final Wednesday/Friday exploratory period of the semester last week was filled with a community discussion on the nationwide issues with police brutality and racial tension.

Originally scheduled for Thursday, the discussion was pushed back a day due to the superstorm which caused what some are calling a “California snow day.”

The primary purpose of this discussion was to facilitate a better understanding of the issues at hand, as well as to promote constructive conversations.

“It’s important for people to realize that race and socioeconomics affect all of us,” said music teacher Benjamin Mertz. “And though we might not be personally affected by a situation, when there is injustice in the world, it brings us all down. Raising the consciousness so that we have an awareness of what’s happening around us gives us the opportunity to be better people, and to be part of a positive change in making the world a better place to live in.”

Led by Mertz and humanities teachers Marco Morrone and Drew Gloger, the discussion last Friday was intended to focus on the larger picture, rather than the basic facts of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.

“It’s important for students to consider what happens when the people charged with enforcing the laws are not restricted by the laws,” said Mertz, “and [that] the way someone looks does affect the way they’re treated in the world even though it’s 2014.”

“The number one thing is to just stay informed, and to practice that habit of a global sense of awareness,” said Morrone. “And then, understanding the way that American culture moves, that there’s a difference between law and culture: a constant dialogue that occasionally turns violent.”

Though the differences between law and culture have always been evident in society, the current situation seems to be something more than just another protest.

“Something about the national conversation about race has shifted recently,” said Morrone. “[We’re focusing on] what is that, how did it happen…”

The purpose of a school-wide discussion, Morrone explained, was to add to people’s understanding of the situation, especially since so much else is going on right now.

“It’s worked in the past, to step back,” he said. “Certainly some students are keeping well-informed, and have very coherent opinions. Then there are other people who are not paying attention at all.”

Having discussions with everyone brings everyone into the issue, and gives people with all different background levels of knowledge into the conversation. “It’s important for us as teachers to open up this conversation, because it might be one that doesn’t get opened up in your homes,” said Mertz. “It should be talked about. Not through rumor and misinformation, but through steady leadership and collaborative discussion.”

While some teachers, like Morrone, have been able to talk about these nationwide issues in their classes, not all have. “My two foundation arts classes are almost all freshmen,” Mertz said. “I’ve talked about this with my advisory group and with the choir, but with a class of freshmen, it would be more me teaching my opinion. This mixed grade-level communication is the right way to do this.”

With the opportunity for peer-to-peer conversations, students have the ability to discuss different opinions with open minds. “We live in a slightly insulated, progressive type of society,” said Mertz, “in a tiny little closed unit, but all around us is this really traumatic situation… you don’t have to go very far. Andy Lopez was killed here a year ago, and the officer who killed him was never convicted.”

Because of this, considering these issues is essential. “It has a deep impact on all of our lives,” Mertz said. “In ways that we can’t fathom or know.”