- In the entranceway to a college dormitory, a student has written on the dry erase board a message that describes Blacks as welfare recipients and STD spreaders.
- A student columnist for a college newspaper refers to Whites as “irredeemable racists” and calls for African Americans to execute Whites who pose a threat.
- A college fraternity holds a “Mexican Border Party.” To gain entrance, students have to crawl under a barbed wire barrier.
- Leaflets depicting the Holocaust as a hoax are handed out in front of a college building housing a Jewish student organization.
On college campuses today, a growing number of students are being targeted by hate incidents such as these. As an alumnus of Howard University , is it any wonder that I recently read an editorial in the college newspaper entitled “Racist Parties on the Rise.” While the editorial focused on the “Halloween in the Hood” campus party at Johns Hopkins University , it also made mention of numerous other college parties with racist themes that have taken place recently. These include “Big Booty Hoes and Ghetto Bros” at the University of Illinois, the “Republican Black Face Party” at Penn State University, and “Straight Thuggin” at the University of Chicago.
For many of us, incidents of this nature might cause us to reconsider whether a quality education is our best hope for fighting racism and other forms of intolerance. Indeed, it makes us wonder what we are teaching college students, both in and out of the classroom. The invitation to the party at Johns Hopkins described Baltimore as an “HIV pit” and encouraged partygoers to wear local clothing such as “bling bling ice ice grills” and “hoochie hoops.”
In the aftermath of the party at JHU, administrators have recommended diversity training and more workshops and courses dealing with the history of racism. Interestingly, many JHU students have found refuge on the Web, feeling they can discuss their thoughts more openly and honestly online. Demands by the Black Student Union at JHU include a cultural center and more faculty members of color. Recently, a “Rally Against Racism” was held on campus.
As a white faculty member at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC), I have wrestled with similar issues of racial intolerance and cultural insensitivity for more than three decades. I have learned that there is no substitute for strong leadership, critical self-evaluation, and honest and open dialogue that is up close and personal.
Diversity education, rather than diversity training, should be the focus. It shows our naiveté if we expect so-called training sessions to effectively address these very personal and difficult issues and dialogues. Diversity education is ongoing, comprehensive, and at times unpredictable. Moreover, it needs to involve the entire college community and surrounding communities.
I recently heard a white member of the sociology faculty from McDaniel College talk about how she does not discuss race until the end of the semester. I would suggest this is a form of white privilege; that is, the fact that you can compartmentalize race and “put it off” until you feel safe discussing it. At colleges like BCCC, we do not have this luxury. Throughout the semester, students infuse racial diversity into the curriculum by virtue of who they are and their life experiences.
Recently, the president of JHU stated that racism “is still an issue in our university community.” Would the presidents of McDaniel and Carroll Community College say that racism is still an issue at their respective colleges? If so, how are they addressing this issue?
Talking about racial diversity is not enough. We need to experience it. A while back, I heard a university student compare campus life to “living in a bubble.” As part of their educational experiences, teachers need to nudge and even push students out of their cultural bubbles.
While college students might come from different cultural backgrounds, there is no guarantee that they will interact and learn from each other. Often, what we find on college campuses is what some term segregated pluralism, students keeping to themselves and interacting for the most part with their “own kind.” The college classroom and co-curricular activities can help break down these barriers, but college administrators need to focus more on activities, programs, and other initiatives to promote cross-cultural interaction. Furthermore, college presidents need to translate their personal commitment to diversity into organizational change.
Finally, students are not the only ones who need to venture outside of their racial and cultural comfort zones. We all need to move beyond our own little world so to speak, regardless of our academic credentials or our work experience. In Carroll County , how can we most effectively do this as students and teachers, employees and employers, and members of our community? Please email me your thoughts.