Lawrence Ross, author of “Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses,” warned HBCU grads planning to attend PWI’s that the overall message on these campuses across America is “you don’t belong.”
Though Ross has been lecturing on “The Divine Nine,” for 15 plus years, he said he noticed that over the last five years students of color shared common feelings of isolation and alienation at PWIs. As he began his research he soon realized that this was not a new trend.
“Systematic racism equals societal cancer,”
said Ross, and Americans do not like to address or change either. He said he noticed that most predominately white institutions deal with racial tensions in the same way with what he refers to as “three ‘izes’ equals a miss.”
With any campus racism incident the first step is to individualize the situation said Ross. This is to assure the public that the situation is uncommon and they have no need to worry. Ross said the second step was to minimize the situation. This step is to let the public know that despite what they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears, a racism problem does not exist. When the issue at hand cannot be stopped with the first two steps, Ross said the final step is to trivialize the situation by making excuses or blaming others. With this final step the concerns of black students are dismissed. “You do not belong,” said Ross.
In addressing campus racism Ross evaluated four areas: anti-affirmative action laws, campus symbolism, IFC fraternities and PanHellenic sororities (predominately white fraternities and sororities) and racial micro-aggressions.
Anti-Affirmative Action Laws
Affirmative action refers to “admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups who have been historically excluded or underrepresented such as women and minorities,” said Ross. Because it has been demonized over the years people don’t actually understand what it means said Ross.
Several cases have gone before the Supreme Court to get rid of affirmative action. So many that two states now have initiatives to ban it. California has Proposition 209 and Michigan has a similar anti-affirmative action law which both ban the use of race in admission policies.
“Symbolism matters,” said Ross. He gave several examples of statues, names of residence halls and campus buildings that commemorate openly racist individuals. Campus vandalism is becoming a growing concern such as the Omega Psi Phi memorial rock vandalized at James Madison University. Paying close attention and petitioning for the removal of these openly racist names and symbols is critical because they paint the picture that “you do not belong.”
Predominately White Fraternities and Sororities
Predominately white fraternities and sororities continually perpetuate the racism found on college campuses. Many of the “origins of their (predominately white fraternities and sororities) organizations are centered around race.” For example frat boys at the University of Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon were caught on tape singing “there will never be a n**** in SAE.” Overt racism that says “you do not belong.”
Ross said there are two types of people in the world: race averse vs. rave aware students.
Race averse people look at the world as not having race problems and are blind to their privilege said Ross. Race aware people, on the other hand, pay close attention to racial tensions and racial make-up.
This combination leaves black students feeling left out and alienated: as though they’re invited to the party, but not having fun said Ross. In other words “you do not belong.”
Ross encouraged students to stand up and speak up because he said, “silence is violence.” Use your skills and knowledge to make an impact on racism. Humble yourself and empathize. As students of color, Ross said it is important keep in mind the concept of intersectionality so that we don’t silence other voices.
If you choose to go to a PWI remember that you have as much of a right to that campus as anybody else. “Just because we term it PWI does not mean they own it,” said Ross. Demand your space and fight for your rights.