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EWU professor invites dialogue, respect

For Scott Finnie, "education" means "to draw out," invite self-reflection.

By Marijke Fakasiieiki

In teaching classes, speaking at symposia and publishing insights, Scott Finnie, professor in Africana studies at Eastern Washington University (EWU), feels called to create Martin Luther King Jr.'s beloved community.

His approach is to validate students and others, to draw them into interaction and dialogue in which they ask and answer questions.

"I want to help people discover not just what they think but why they think what they think. How did they reach their conclusion on Black Lives Matter and how do they justify it," said Scott.

"Most people change their dynamic if they see where they are and where they want to be," he said. "Unless there's self-reflection in an education setting, there won't be much education."

Educate comes from "educare," which means "to draw out."

For Scott, that happens by engaging students' thought processes and critical thinking to find out how they think, reflect on and judge their own thinking before they assess a subject.

To have students reflect on affirmative action, the death penalty or the Black Panthers, critical thinking is key, he said.

Through his company, Engaging Teen Concepts, he offers diversity training and presentations that show the power of communication and mutuality at high schools, community colleges, police departments, universities, courts, medical groups and more.

EWU's Africana Studies Program and Scott's teaching have evolved over the years. In 1991, he began a master's in American history on civil rights history at EWU. That challenged him to consider teaching. In 1992, he started teaching in the Black Studies Program, which later became African Studies, then African-American Studies and now is Africana Studies.

"Africana" refers to African Americans, and the 54 nations of Africa and people of African descent transplanted to the Caribbean and Latin America.

After Scott earned a doctoral degree in 2000 on the U.S. civil rights movement in Gonzaga University's leadership studies program, he became a full-time faculty member at EWU.

In 2007, he earned tenure as associate professor and in 2010, he became a professor. In 2014, he became director of the department.

Scott, who came from Oakland to play basketball at Gonzaga, said that now, in teaching African and African-American history at EWU, he focuses on issues of social justice, related to racial inequity, affirmative action and grassroots civil rights movements. For him, that's under the umbrella of activism through servant leadership.

He believes "all people of God are at a round table where there is interaction, acceptance and trust."

His ethos of a round table rather than one-way education influences Scott's interactions to foster interdependence and mutuality as he meets people, teaches a class or speaks to an audience.

"Education is the purest act of love. I want to learn about you. As a servant leader, I listen. I treasure people and get to know them to honor and validate them," Scott said.

"Once someone feels honored and validated, they have a boost to reach their potential and capacity. That is what Christ did by becoming human and dying for us, because he treasured our potential and our capacity," he said.

As a Bible-believing Christian, Scott studies church history and the Greek language, the original text of the New Testament.

"I love the Bible and things related to my Savior," said Scott. "I became a Christian at age 14 after my older brother died and I wondered, 'What is the meaning of human life?'"

That experience opened him to spiritual reality as he asked, "What is our origin, purpose and destiny? Where did we come from? Where are we now? Where will we be going?"

To answer those questions, he realized he had to seek Christ. His experience of receiving the Lord shaped his education, career and reaching out to people.

To him, incarnation means "we are here to reach out and communicate. God becoming human shows that credentials, achievements, attainments or degrees can be either barriers or bridges."

Scott said the greatest lesson in the Bible is that it is better to be a bridge, so to communicate these topics to students, he focuses on interaction.

He also has published his research. In 2019, he co-authored a book, Unlocking the Master Narrative, with Angela Wissner from Spokane Community Colleges Communications Program.

The theme was to help people see how Eurocentrism presented a narrow narration of history, marginalizing or making invisible non-European people.

Their focus in the book is to connect history with communication studies.

"Martin Luther King Jr. said most of our race problems stem from our not knowing how to communicate with each other," Scott said.

The book offers a bridge for people to move out of "the blinding nature of the master narrative."

"Often there's no validation of the black experience because the master narrative or Eurocentric perspective wipes out the African narrative or lived experience," he said. "Some in the white community don't have an experience of the black community, so they receive their narrative from a validating perspective."

In journals, Scott has also published more than 12 articles about teaching on a predominantly white campus, affirmative action, civil rights and servant leadership.

He has spoken on affirmative action, black mass incarceration and a comparative study of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X at universities in Oxford, England; Glasgow, Scotland; Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Brisbane, Australia.

"As an African American, it is a golden opportunity once I show people of European descent that I am there to open up a brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity," said Scott.

"Our warped history and narrative has divided us, allowing privilege for some and disadvantage for others. I point a finger at the context and imbalance we inherit," said Scott.

"When I speak of my white brothers and sisters, that melts down the wall of fear and the stereotype of a black man trying to tell a white person, he or she is the problem," he said.

"As brothers and sisters, we can have meaningful dialogue," Scott explained.

For him, the key to change is trust, because, with trust, real dialogue produces mutuality. That approach advances African American history.

"By sitting down to dialogue, we can learn our contexts. If we can see we've inherited a mess, then as brothers and sisters we can step back as objective social scientists, and look at the tree in front of us," he said.

For Scott, the murder of George Floyd was horrible, a lynching watched on a cell phone.

"What is it about whiteness and police authority that has created a lack of justice in this country. Let's step back and see it, not just as one incident. There are many episodes that we are mourning," he said, calling for systemic change that comes from people seeing systemic issues.

"Who are you? Who am I? What do we think? We need to collectively move forwards and upwards," said Scott, who is hopeful.

"I engage in an educational exchange based on the potential of the human heart. Prejudice is a sickness of the human heart. Self-reflection moves us to reverse inequity through dialogue," Scott said.

"To look at history is to look at human nature. To look at human nature is to look at ourselves," he said. "By looking at history, human nature and ourselves, we are overwhelmed by one basic common theme: the ironic inconsistencies of human nature.

"Each of us—individually and as groups—is a walking paradox," said Scott.

He believes that bias, discrimination and prejudice related to fear, ignorance, insecurity, cultural myopia and selfishness can be remedied.

Fear can be remedied by exposure, ignorance by formal and informal education, insecurity by dignity, cultural myopia by immersion and selfishness by sacrifice, he said.

For Scott, the remedies are found in Martin Luther King Jr.'s steps to the beloved community: 1) know the difference between hearing and listening, 2) spark trust by validating others, 3) develop trust that allows for true mutuality and 4) celebrate differences as strengths, not as liabilities.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February, 2022