Lawrence Ross, author of “Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses,” visited Plattsburgh State Wednesday night to discuss the history of race issues and social injustices plaguing college campuses and their connections with fraternity and sorority life.
Ross approached the podium after being introduced and began his lecture with a racist chant. The audience was quiet as Ross asked if anyone in attendance had heard the chant before. Several students raised their hands. He explained that the chant was recorded on video by two college students at the University of Oklahoma. Both students were members of a fraternity at the college.
Ross decided to come and lecture at PSUC after being in contact with Fraternity and Sorority Life Director Allison Swick-Duttine, following the graphic published in Cardinal Points last semester. Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman said his department played a supporting role in the planning, helping to cover the financial aspect of the event.
In the lecture, Ross discussed his “three ‘izes’ equals a miss theory,” demonstrating how colleges deflect racial issues. The first mistake is individualizing a racist event or scenario by blaming only one group or one student for the incident. The second of the “ize,” is minimizing the incident to try and cover it up. Lastly, trivializing is the act of blaming someone else for an event.
Ross also covered four main concepts that could lead to racism on college campuses, although he said his main message could be summed up as, “To do better, you need to know better.”
The first theory was “The Legacy of Segregation and Anti-Affirmative Action Laws.” Affirmative Action laws were set in place as admissions policies, that mandate educational facilities provide equal access for groups that have been historically excluded. Ross said that primarily black schools were four times as likely to have underqualified teachers when compared to primarily white schools.
Ross’s second concept was the idea of campus symbolism. He described colleges and universities that used racist figures in history to name buildings on their campuses. One example was Benjamin “Pitchfork” Teller. Teller was a southern politician in the 1800s and 1900s, who was a notorious racist. Clemson University has a hall named after Teller, which upset some of the students at the university.
Ross said while colleges and universities argue that they are using key figures in history, it still promotes racist ideologies.
Another component to racism on college campuses, according to Ross, are InterFraternity Council and Panhellenic Sororities. He presented photos from multiple organizations all over the country engaging in racially themed parties and gatherings. Some Greek Life members engaged in theses parties by wearing “blackface,” or common gang colors.
His last concept was the use of “Racial Micro Aggressions.” He said some college students are “race averse,” meaning they chose to ignore race or pretend they don’t notice it, while other students are “race aware,” meaning they are able or willing to acknowledge racial issues.
Ross closed his lecture by suggesting ways to end racism on college campuses. He was straightforward in his message, saying, “Stop doing racist things.”
Ross said one of the best ways to end racism on college campuses is to listen to the students and to empower the administrators that work with students.
“Don’t just give them a little bit of resources and then expect them to actually create a campus of tolerance, not just tolerance, but of understanding on campus.” Ross said.
He said another key to stopping campus racism was to humble oneself and empathize with others.
“Every time someone stands up and says something, it reverberates,” Ross said. “It reverberates, and it changes things.”
Email Marissa Russo at firstname.lastname@example.org