It’s been about fifty years since the peak of the civil rights movement, but have racism and hate speech been eradicated? If not, is that an issue that needs to be addressed on campus?
SGA President Jade Wagner thinks racism needs to be discussed among students. “There’s racism all around us in the smallest of ways, and people have just learned to ignore it and look over it,” she says.
Wagner, who has a black father and a white mother, recalls one time when she was in fourth grade. A white girl touched her hair and remarked, “Ew, your hair is so greasy! That’s such a black girl thing!” So Wagner went home and cried to her parents, who helped her pick a new product to use in her hair.
“I changed my hairstyle because of one girl’s comment,” she says. “People don’t realize what their words can do to people, especially children.”
Other students say that they have never had any experiences in dealing with racism or discrimination. “Really, I just think some people are overdramatic,” says JSU student Patrick Paul. “A lot of people who get in trouble try to blame other races or say that the police are messing with them because they’re a different race. But it has nothing to do with race.”
SGA Senator Kadeem Hubbard points out that students are able to tell campus leaders if they ever are having a problem with racism or bullying.
“Every Monday at the senate meetings, we have a portion of time set out where if a student has a problem, they can come voice what they have to say,” Hubbard says. “And all semester, we have had no one come say anything.”
University President Dr. Bill Meehan thinks that a bigger issue underlying racism is prejudice in general. “It will never be totally eradicated as prejudice because somebody is always going to be prejudiced about something,” Meehan says.
He did talk about the changes he saw in his high school after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, and noted that the country as a whole has come a long way since then in dealing with acceptance of all races.
A popular opinion as to why racism still exists is that it is culturally acceptable. “I think it has a lot to do with what we see on TV, what we hear in music, what we’re exposed to,” says Wagner, who cringes every time she hears the “n-word” coming from the lips of an acquaintance or the lyrics of a song. “Just because we’re exposed to it doesn’t make it OK.”
SGA Associate Justice Lauren McClendon agrees that culture and environment play a roll in determining prejudices. “I think a lot of people just go by what they’ve known their whole lives,” she says. “They’ve listened to what their mother says and what their grandmother says and what their great-grandmother says, and it’s an issue that’s going to have to take its time to go away.”
She adds, however, that no demographic is taken into consideration by the SGA traffic court in any of the decisions that they make.
While there will always be prejudiced people in the world, prejudice and racism can be combated.
Meehan says that most prejudices are caused by fear, and that the antidote for fear is education.
“When you sit down with a person from another race, a person from another culture, from diversity that you have not been used to, you realize that they have the same values, that they have the same family and love,” he says. “They may have a different faith, but if you can understand their faith, then that is a way to reduce that prejudice.”
McClendon agrees that education is the best tool in fighting racism. “The more education you have, the more open-minded you are,” she says. “As long as we continue to push education and open-mindedness, that’s what will determine how long this stays an issue.”
Wagner spoke last night at an open forum hosted by the African American Association on campus. The forum educated students on racism and diversity.
“I don’t think it’s fair that racism is still so rampant, and not just white on black racism,” she says. “There’s a lot of black on white racism, there’s a lot of Latino racism, there’s a lot of Asian racism.”
While Paul acknowledges that he’s aware that some people harbor racist feelings, he isn’t concerned with racism. “If they believe that, that’s what they believe,” he says. “They’re not affecting me. I’m graduating December thirteenth.”