By George Mauzy
Racism and all of its ugly features were put under a microscope during a public discussion that drew some 200 people to Baker University Center Ballroom Thursday night.
The open forum, co-hosted by Ohio University's Cutler and Templeton scholars, was designed to raise awareness of racism on campus via open dialogue. About 50 students from the university's two most elite scholarship programs prepared for the discussion by meeting weekly throughout spring quarter.
Cutler Scholar Matt Denhart, who helped organize and lead the discussion, said the goal was to provide an opportunity for people to discuss recent events. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, several planned student house parties encouraged prospective partygoers to dress and behave in stereotypical ways. But the biggest catalyst for the evening's discussion was a Sept. 7 Post column that used several racist and derogatory references to describe illegal Latino immigrants. The Post staff said the article was a satirical piece and wasn't intended to be offensive.
Templeton Scholar Jalyssa Eliasen said she didn't think the article was racist. At the time, she wrote a letter to the editor after a public outcry for the writer's dismissal, saying people should not be so easily offended.
"It is important how you respond to race situations, and you need to do it with understanding and forgiveness," Eliasen said. "Minorities should be more compassionate toward people who don't understand what it's like to be a minority."
King-Chavez-Parks Scholar Velma Lopez said she was highly offended by the article and was among Latino Student Union members who discussed the article with university administrators and The Post staff.
"It is important to understand historical oppression," Lopez said. "(The) column was laced with racist historical injustices. It's OK to call him a racist. He used the power of the press as a voice for systematic oppression, and that is how racism is promulgated."
Associate Professor of English George Hartley said the most hurtful thing about the article was that a firestorm of responses to it further perpetuated stereotypes. He said blacks were called hypersensitive, and Latinos were told to check their emotions when called "scum."
"However, if a white person is called a racist, it's somehow overwhelming, and they become fragile," Hartley said. "I just find it interesting that we find it hard to call white people what they are."
Cutler Scholar Jordan Templeton said the scholars' collaboration this quarter in preparing for the discussion increased her awareness. "As a group, we discovered the factors that most often promote racist attitudes are ignorance, stereotypes and a lack of awareness to what is offensive to others."
The group shared the results of a recent online survey of 117 students who were asked if racism is a big problem on campus. In responding to the survey, 44.5 percent of black students strongly agreed that racism is a big problem, while only 14.1 percent of white students felt that way.
African American Studies Professor Francine Childs said dialogues such as Thursday's are valuable, but she also thinks the university should require race sensitivity training for all incoming students during fall orientation. "We need to expose all people to diversity classes and training," she said.
After the event, Butch Hill, co-director of the Cutler Scholars Program, said both the discussion and collaborative project were worthwhile. "I was pleased that the scholars spoke their thoughts and learned from each other this quarter. They did all the work leading up to tonight and really hosted a great conversation."