Students discuss racism concerns

Sara Truitt

Sara Truitt

Northern Kentucky University students, faculty and administration voiced concerns with racism on the campus and in the surrounding community at the eighth Annual Dialogue on Racism Nov. 15.

The event, sponsored by Students Together Against Racism (STAR), featured presentations by representatives from minority student organizations and faculty members.

Jasmine Mason, secretary of STAR, opened the dialogue with a brief history of the event and its importance. According to Mason, the dialogue on racism was inspired by “One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race” created by President Clinton in 1997. Parts of President Clinton’s initiative called for education, action and open discussion on the issues surrounding race in the United States in effort to promote understanding and awareness nationwide.

“This is a campus-community dialogue where the students, faculty, staff and administration address issues and concerns with racism and work with peers to eliminate discrimination,” said Mason. “This dialogue is the beginning of a working relationship between students, faculty and administration.”

President of the Latino Student Union Kathy Espinosa was the first speaker. Espinosa cited a lack of funding as a main concern of the Latino community at NKU. “Every time LSU and Amigos wants to have (an) event, we are told to look back to our community, the Latino community, for help,” said Espinosa. Without adequate funding, the Latino Student Union would be unable to effectively contribute to an atmosphere of multiculturalism on campus, added Espinosa.

“Most of what you will hear tonight will be about students’ quest for a relative education,” said the next presenter Rodney Daniels, a professor in the Afro-American studies program. Daniels said many African Americans seek higher education not only to simply get a job upon graduation, but also to create a job within their communities that will improve the conditions of that community. “It is the university’s responsibility to provide the type of education to increase students helping to create healthy communities,” said Daniels.

Keidra King, vice president of STAR, spoke next and addressed the issue of multiculturalism on campus. “Without students of color, multiculturalism would cease to exist at this university,” said King, “but, yet, when it comes to putting a curriculum together developed in conjunction students are not part of these committees. We must establish more effective ways to collaborate between students of color and the administration in order to respond to this issue.”

Eric Smith of the Black Men’s Organization said there is a lack of African American males in the academic advising department and, without a positive male influence, retention of African American males is not possible. “We understand that there are African American men on this campus who are willing to assist us in any way they are able to,” Smith said, “but there are no structured incentives or reward programs based on the services they provide.” Smith suggested mentoring programs within the various academic departments and other support services for African American males.

Dr. Nicole Grant, who teaches courses on race and gender, spoke next about a proposal to eliminate the race and gender general education requirements in favor of courses on pluralism. “Race and gender courses involve the study of social relationships that connect the experiences of different groups within society,” Grant said, “pluralism courses, on the other hand, look at diverse groups as relatively separate and unique.”

President of STAR Desera Favors addressed the issue of retention next and said that particular responsibility should not be left solely to the students. “We can’t be expected to find ways to keep others here when we’re trying to keep ourselves here as well,” said Favors. Though students express a need for race and gender courses, Favors says many question the qualifications of the instructors. Favors also said the relocation and/or removal of the Reds Grooms sculpture “Way Down East,” which depicts the controversial director of “Birth of a Nation” D.W. Griffith, should be discussed.

Joshua Harris and Jordan Cornwell of the Anointed Youth Organization presented information on the strengthening of the African American studies programs, hiring additional qualified personnel and creating an African American studies major at NKU. “It is urgent to strengthen the math and science programs by hiring people who are closely sensitive to the issues facing people of color and to encourage students to enter these programs freely,” said Harris.

Jesiah Brock, president of the NAACP college chapter at NKU, praised administrators and staff for making strides before offering his suggestions for improvements in race relations on campus and retention. Brock said programs like NKU Rocks are vital tools for attracting students, but more should be done to keep upperclassmen involved in university activities. “Where are you going after you’re a freshman if you need help staying,” said Brock. “After your freshman year, you’re kind of just thrown out into the wild.”

Student Government Association President Andy Hixson said that minority students are underrepresented in student government and encouraged all interested students to apply for the upcoming SGA elections. “What we need to do as a student government is realize that minority issues aren’t just minority issues, they’re community issues,” said Hixson.

Finally, Camile Perry of the Anointed Voices gospel choir said more should be done to offer classes that foster a positive environment for minority students. “Many African Americans come from a spiritual background and when we come to college we look for an organization that can help us hold on to our values,” said Perry.

NKU President James Votruba said a great deal has been done already. The constant dialogues that both administrators and students establish should be a sign of positive advancements and mutual respect. “Groups will work together if they respect each other,” said Votruba, “and I think what we’re trying to do here at NKU is build a community that will be an example to the larger community.”

Votruba said building a strong center of multiculturalism on campus is a difficult task compounded by many outside factors. “All of the unresolved issues surrounding race in our culture and in our nation find their way right on to campus,” said Votruba. “Out of all the programs mentioned, the place that I’m placing most of my attention is on retention because I don’t want students failing out of here.”