FITCHBURG — After the controversial verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial last Friday, Fitchburg State University organized two discussion groups, one for students of color and one for white allies.
A university spokesman said this was done to create a space for students of color where they could be vulnerable and candid, without feeling their experiences were under observation or being used for someone else's learning.
About 12 students attended the session for students of color and a few faculty and staff members attended the session for white allies.
"This practice, referred to as creating counterspaces, is often employed on predominantly white campuses for students of color to process, reflect and explore conversations in environments different from their daily experience," Matthew Bruun, director of communications and public affairs at the university, said.
The separate spaces for students, along with two other discussions originally planned for faculty and staff, created some external controversy and misunderstanding, Bruun said. The original email sent out by the university had some factual errors about the case, and Bruun said they acknowledged that in a follow-up email.
These discussions, held Monday, came about after several students who'd been following the Rittenhouse case reached out to the Center for Diversity and Inclusiveness on campus and expressed a desire for space to talk about it, Bruun said.
Rittenhouse, a young white man, was acquitted in the killing of two white men and the injuring of a third. The shootings occurred in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during a racial justice protest in the summer of 2020.
Rittenhouse argued self-defense; his attorneys said he feared for his life and faced death threats from one of the men he killed that night.
Some groups, including the Worcester NAACP, expressed outrage over the verdict, which they say highlights the difference between the treatment of white people and people of color by the justice system.
Others have hailed Rittenhouse's acquittal has a victory for the Second Amendment and self-defense.
"This moment has and will undoubtedly impact many in our community, so please see these spaces as an opportunity to discuss your thoughts, emotions and reflections," read the university's original email to students.
Bruun said the conversations resulted in a healthy discussion about some of the nuances in navigating complicated topics, and the university will be organizing more events that enable this.
"Looking ahead, we will be evaluating how best to incorporate the feedback we received from our discussions into future programs," he said. "We always try to be mindful of what is happening nationally and will be creating future spaces for all of our community members to engage in dialogue."
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Fitchburg State discussion groups Kyle Rittenhouse case counterspaces