On a recent Friday, St. Edward’s students and professors sat down to lunch with community leaders and officers from the Austin Police Department for Deliberative Dialogue, a forum that helps citizens talk productively about difficult issues and think about tough subjects in new ways.

This dialogue focused, in part, on the rise in violent crime in the United States in 2015 and 2016, as well as violence that too often takes place between police and civilians — particularly people of color. At one table, a lively but respectful discussion developed about relationships between communities and police.

“My family is primarily undocumented, and my neighborhood is primarily undocumented,” said Political Science major Alejandro Izaguirre ’20. “Even before Senate Bill 4, calling the police would be the last thing we’d do.”

Austin Police Commander Catherine Johnson listened carefully. “It saddens me, but I know that’s a reality,” she said. “The part of SB4 that allows officers to ask people about their citizenship status is just an option, and our department policy will follow the law but specify that it’s an option, not required. We value every member of the community and want to provide a sense of safety for all.”

“Are there more ways police could build relationships with the community?” Raul Alvarez, a former city council member, was ready to take notes.

“Please — I need more,” Johnson said.

“Cultural competency training,” Izaguirre said. “In my American Dilemmas class, we’ve been talking about how it’s crucial to have anthropologists and sociologists in the room. If people understand the reality of oppression racial minorities face, people start to become more empathetic. This helps government institutions become more equitable.”

Afterward, the conversation continued in the hallway. “This event was extremely important,” Izaguirre said. “It creates an environment for people to get out of their comfort zone and talk about issues that people face on a daily basis.”