The tour of the museum was one of many stations in a semester’s journey for the class from Berkeley exploring race, justice, and theology. They examined the ways theology is twisted in support of racism—today and in the past—and how they as people of faith could do more to speak out against injustice. The class is the first at the school to include a domestic immersion trip—a civil rights pilgrimage touring sites in the Deep South that born witness to the Freedom Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
“We had to ‘come and see,’” says Alison Benders, associate dean and senior lecturer, who led the course and the trip along with Simon Kim, director of Intercultural Initiatives at JST. Before leaving on their eight-day, 15-site journey, the class read works about race in America, histories of white people, indigenous people, Mexican Americans, and, of course, black Americans. Writings by Bryan Massingale and James Cone (black theologians), and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Erika Lee (cultural historians), filled the syllabus. But the key to understanding was bearing witness.
“I hope to translate this notional knowledge to experiential knowledge—head to heart,” Benders says. “I don’t want people to feel that these things are remote but to feel that it happened to us. Racial oppression is our history.”