Past issues boil over at race forum

Tony Redell

At a forum to discuss issues of race at Northern Kentucky University, students re-opened a topic that divided the campus for several years during the 1990s.

Students are concerned about the presence of a statue created by artist Red Grooms, and the heated debate that ensued caused the Nov. 13 seventh annual Students Against Racism (STAR) dialogue on race to be extended by an hour-and-a-half to allow for an unplanned question-and-answer session with President James Votruba.

The statue, which depicts Kentucky-born director D.W. Griffith filming a scene from the movie Way Down East, was moved in 1998 from the plaza in front of the University Center to a spot near the Fine Arts Building.

Students had objected for several years to the statue’s prominent location because Griffith’s most famous film, Birth of a Nation, was used to recruit members of the Ku Klux Klan.

“It symbolizes what a campus represents,” said James Davis, a sophomore public administration major. “We have American flags on campus to represent that we are a part of America.”

In addition to the statue debate, students also voiced concerns over a perceived lack of coverage of minority organizations by The Northerner and relations between minority students and Department of Public Safety officers.

Speakers stressed that change can be accomplished through commitment.

“It takes commitment to create policy,” said African American studies professor Rodney Daniels. “We need commitment, sacrifice.”

Participants also advocated for the development of a major in African American studies, expanding Latino American studies and incorporating it into the curriculum.

“Racism hides itself in a variety of forms, the perpetrators and victims don’t [always] see,” said Daniels, one of several speakers at the forum.

STAR president Desera Favors said the creation of a major in the African American studies program has been a goal discussed at the past three dialogues on racism, but little action has been taken on the proposal.

“From our perspective, nothing happened (since last year),” said STAR vice president Brandon Hill.

David Okafer, president of the African Student Union, asked why African history courses were offered only as survey classes and didn’t provide in-depth detail about African countries, whereas, he said, European and U.S. history are more specialized courses.

Dr. Michael Washington, director of African American Studies, said the department does not have enough staff members to teach more classes.

Washington said he has drawn up a plan for a major, but that the proposal has stalled when he tried to gain support from other departments so that the curriculum can offer a variety of classes from different fields of study.

One class that students and Washington proposed creating is a sociology class that would present African American issues and also examine how to succeed in a society that often neglects minority needs.

Votruba suggested that the proposal be re-examined, and said he will sit down with Washington to discuss it.

Jermar Mack, president of the Black Man’s Organization, discussed racial profiling by DPS, saying that an African-American male was strip-searched in a campus parking lot.

DPS Chief Jeff Butler said that a student’s mother made such an allegation in the past, but an investigation turned up no supporting evidence.

“To my knowledge there has never been a strip-search on this campus in my three years here,” Butler said in a telephone interview.

“When things like this happen, it feels as though they’re stepping on our pride,” Mack said.

Mack suggested diversity training for DPS officers, faculty and staff, and the creation of a committee that would oversee DPS conduct.

Votruba advocated examining the issues and creating a university environment that reflects those values.

“The systems here are different than the systems where we come from, and it doesn’t do us justice,” said Olisa Mbelu, an international student from Ghana and a junior information systems major.

Mbelu said the attitudes of some students toward international students has caused many to transfer or consider leaving NKU.

Four committees will be formed to address these issues and see to it that the proper procedure is followed to make changes on campus. The BMO is also considering putting out an independent publication to address minority issues on campus, according to Favors.

“My eyes were opened to a side of the story I have never heard before,” said Andy Hixson, vice president of public affairs for the Student Government Association.

Hixson said he would like to see students who have a “passion for change” get on the ballot to run for SGA in the spring semester.

He said that the representation of minorities in student government does not reflect university demographics, but he added that his door is open for all students and their concerns.

Favors encourages students and faculty to get involved and help create change to increase the value of the education NKU provides to students.