Local News

Campus pastor summoned to help two sides talk

By From page A5 | November 22, 2011

The Rev. Kristin Stoneking. Courtesy photo

The Rev. Kristin Stoneking. Courtesy photo

The Rev. Kristin Stoneking of Cal Aggie House and her family had just departed Davis by car on Saturday afternoon, heading for a conference in San Francisco.

But around 5 p.m., Stoneking’s phone rang. It was Griselda Castro, assistant vice chancellor at UC Davis, who told her that Chancellor Linda Katehi and others were inside the Surge II building, which was surrounded by several protesters. The chancellor had called a news conference there.

“(Castro) asked if I could mediate between the students and the administration,” Stoneking said Monday. “We turned the car around and headed back to Davis.”

When the campus pastor reached Surge II, she spent an hour talking with those inside and outside the building, and Stoneking determined that:

* “The chancellor had made a commitment that police would not be called in this situation.”

* “Though the message had been received inside the building that students were offering a peaceful exit, there was a concern that not everyone would hold to this commitment.”

* “The chancellor had committed to talk with students personally and respond to concerns at a rally on Monday on the Quad.”

* “The student assistants to the chancellor had organized another forum on Tuesday for the chancellor to dialog directly with students.”

Stoneking added, “What we felt couldn’t be compromised was the students’ desire to see and be seen by the chancellor. Any exit without face-to-face contact was unacceptable. She was willing to do this. We reached agreement that the students would move to one side and sit down as a show of commitment to nonviolence.”

Asked to describe her role, Stoneking said, “I think it is important to know that it wasn’t a negotiation, and ‘mediation’ is not characterizing it accurately. It was facilitation of dialog, helping people hear each other.”

Before Stoneking and Katehi left the building, the chancellor was asked to view a video of a student being pepper-sprayed.

“She immediately agreed,” Stoneking said, and Katehi watched the video together with the pastor and the student who had been pepper-sprayed.

Then Stoneking and Katehi went to the door, and walked side by side to a car, passing scores of silent, stony-faced students.

(Some major news outlets identified the woman walking alongside Katehi as “the chief of police.” But Stoneking said, “I think it is important that people know it was a Christian minister,” rather than a security officer, who accompanied the chancellor as she left the building.)

The pastor added that at one point, Katehi indicated that “she wanted to personally apologize to every student who was pepper-sprayed. I relayed the message to the students, and they asked that instead of being singled out, they preferred that she apologize to everyone, and particularly all students, acknowledging that when a few were pepper-sprayed, we were all harmed.”

Katehi offered a public apology when she spoke at the general assembly on the Quad on Monday afternoon.

Stoneking said that while she understood the protesters’ thinking, “I am personally sorry that the students preferred not to sit down with her face-to-face because I believe something important shifts when a person looks someone else in the eye, owns their actions, takes responsibility, and commits to change. But this is a step in the right direction.

“But for real reconciliation and healing to happen, the apology must be backed up by consistent measures responding to the brokenness of the structure on campus and in the UC system.”

Stoneking has received considerable attention for her part in Saturday’s events. Untold thousands of people have viewed the YouTube video of Katehi and Stoneking walking in eerie silence past staring protesters as they exited Surge II. Stoneking also wrote a blog post that has been linked to or quoted by the Huffington Post, The Atlantic “and other places I didn’t even recognize.”

“Some people have wondered why it was a ‘silent exit,’ ” Stoneking added. “In many religious traditions, when people are grieving and there’s acknowledgement of pain and loss, a period of silence is called for. The students showed such deep commitment to the principles of nonviolence, and I think the chancellor’s willingness to exit in silence was a chance to try to be in that space with them.”

Another campus pastor, the Rev. Jocelynn Hughes of The Belfry, told The Enterprise that “many students are definitely upset about the pepper spray on Friday. They feel the amount of force that was used was not appropriate to the perceived threat.

“I have students who don’t identify with the Occupy movement, but the way the protesters were treated is on the students’ minds. I think they see a major disconnect between the chancellor saying she wants safety for everyone and then watching their fellow students be pepper-sprayed.”

Hughes added, “I think as people of faith, we’re called to follow the example of Jesus, who made nonviolence his approach. I’m thankful that the administration has asked for the support of the campus clergy.

“It is heartening to see them recognize that we can help in this situation. And we want to do that for the students’ sake, and the sake of everyone else at UC Davis.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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