June 18, 2021

Author gives lecture on campus racism

Author Lawrence Ross gave a lecture about racism at college campuses on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

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Lawrence Ross walked onto the Cox Auditorium stage on Wednesday, Feb. 10, singing the violent song that sparked protests and outrage last year when members of the SAE fraternity at Oklahoma University were recorded singing it.

Ross’s rendition of “There will never be a ****** SAE,” accompanied by a graphic photo of a lynching, immediately grabbed the audience’s attention.

The presentation, “Know Better, Do Better: College, Racism and You,” addressed systemic campus racism, an issue that has been sparking media attention in recent years.

“Racism is an icky topic,” Ross said.

Ross is the author of six books on the topic of racism and racial discrimination. The most recent book, “Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses,” was released in earlier this month.

Through showing examples of blatant racism such as blackface parties in Greek life and delving into the details of the University of Missouri and Oklahoma University protests, Ross made it obvious to the audience that campus racism is a growing issue that desperately needs to be addressed.

“If you don’t deal with these issues, you make campus a hostile and unsafe space for minority students,” Ross said.

He made sure to point out that racism on college campuses is by no means a new phenomenon. Ross cited examples of extremely similar parties and behaviors at universities several decades ago.

In addition to the historically segregated fraternity system, Ross cites anti-affirmative action, campus symbolism and racial micro-aggressions as other sources of campus racism.

According to Ross, all of these things come together to tell minority students, “You don’t belong on campus.”

Examples of the hostility toward minority students that Ross notes are statues and the names of buildings on certain campuses. Through these kinds of memorabilia, many universities honor people who were famously racist during their lifetimes. He compared this to a Jewish student being forced to walk past a statue of Hitler on campus every day.

“Minorities are not asking for a scrubbing of history, nor are they asking for people without fault to be honored,” Ross said. “But there are people being honored who are in direct contrast with the stated values of the university.”

Graduate student Alannie Grant recently transferred from a university in Pittsburgh and has found UT to be much less progressive in issues of diversity and discrimination.

“I come from a much more open type of place and I’m not used to feeling as though I can’t really express myself on a university campus,” Grant said. “We had protests, we had gatherings and conversations and we were trying to evolve past the uncomfortable racial discrimination and related kinds of issues.”

Adam LaClair, a senior studying math, said he was surprised by the presentation, not realizing that campus racism was such a prevalent issue.

“I like that he kept it entertaining and the end was really powerful,” LaClair said. “It definitely opened my eyes up to things I hadn’t really thought about before.”

Ross concluded his talk by giving the audience advice about how to stop campus racism, such as being unafraid to step outside of a comfort zone in the name of racial justice.

“I’d much rather you take a wrong step in the right direction than to never take a step at all,” he said.

Even though campuses may have a long way to go toward totally eliminating racism, Grant felt that this program shows forward motion.

“I’m just excited that the university has sponsored this type of event, especially in light of recent push back against diversity in Nashville,” she said.

The Know Better, Do Better planning committee presented Ross with a certificate of appreciation following the presentation.

Edited by Courtney Anderson

Featured image by Ryan McGill

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