On October 11, 2011, Grambling State University served as the host school for a groundbreaking roundtable discussion titled “Race: A Millennial Generation’s Perspective.” The conversation was held in the Black and Gold Room Tuesday and included student leaders from GSU, Louisiana Tech (La Tech), University Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) and Louisiana State University at Shreveport (LSUS).
“This is a monumental event, it is the very first time we have ever had all four schools together on one campus to discuss race. The fact that it happened on our campus is even more significant,” stated Dr. Stacey Duhon Vice President of Student Affairs.
The purpose of the discussion was to gain insight on race relations in America today from the millennial generation and to promote a better understanding of issues around race.
“This discussion is extremely important, the voice of our youth is very crucial for moving into the future,” stated Dottie Reese of DMM & Associates, an organizer in charge of the dialogue.
The students were split up from sitting with people from their own institutions to ensure that different views were being shared in each group. The facilitators made it clear to the participants that they were to remain open minded and listen to understand, not to argue or rebuttal.
“What do you think contributes to the continuing existence of disparities, such as financial, health, and education in communities of color?” This question kicked off interesting conversations within each group. Groups collectively gave feedback on exactly what they thought the problems were.
Politics were cited as playing a major role in the existence of the disparities in these communities. Often time’s money is not properly appropriated by politicians when it comes to certain neighborhoods. As one student pointed out “the majority of politicians are upper class white males who do not always have everybody’s best interest at heart.”
Other students pointed out that the way the question was worded made it seem as though all communities of color had these problems, and this is not at all the case.
The participants in the discussion also watched Jane Elliot’s landmark study A Class Divided: Brown Eyes and Blue Eyes. After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, a school teacher Jane Elliott wanted to teach her third-grade class about racism, so she divided her class by eye color — blue eyes and brown eyes. She informed the students that brown-eyed students were better than blue-eyed students.
And within 15 minutes, Elliott stated that she observed her brown-eyed students morph into youthful supremacists and blue-eyed children become uncertain and intimidated.
At the end of the experiment, Elliott discussed with her students what it felt like to be one of those labeled “inferior.” The kids described their anger and how they now realize that physical attributes don’t define a person.
When asked who do you feel is responsible for the existence and elimination of racism in our society, the students all agreed that we are all individually responsible for eliminating racism.
The term white privilege was also a hot topic of discussion and if it is still prevalent in our society.
“White privilege is still very evident at Louisiana Tech. It may not be intentional but it still goes on, but it is never discussed,” stated Dustin Vessel, president of the Black Student Union at La Tech.
The goal of the roundtable discussion was to develop strategies on what people can do to promote positive race relations. It all starts on an individual level and it is all about the education of the masses. We cannot have a strong country without strong communities.
“I really enjoyed the dialogues, it was interesting to hear other perspectives because we don’t usually talk about race with other races,” Vessel said.
Grambling is the second school to host the roundtable discussion. It is an initiative sponsored by the Louisiana Civil Rights Museum and the office of the Lt. Governor of Louisiana.
“The student participation was excellent. We would really like to thank the schools for making a great effort of bringing together a diverse group of students to participate,” stated Margret Montgomery of DMM & Associates.
Jeremy Smith is a Sophomore Mass Communications Major from Tampa, Florida. He is the Co-editor of the voices section of The Gramblinite, Grambling State University’s Award Winning Newspaper, and the Sophomore Class President for the 2011-2012 Academic School Year.