Sometimes the past provides a useful window into the present. Fifty years ago, African-American student James Meredith was the first black student to integrate the University of Mississippi after a hostile, and deadly confrontation between Federal representatives and state segregationists.
Now students in an honors class at the university wrestle with what occurred on their campus well before they were born.
As this recent NPR story story from the Ole Miss campus illustrates, much has changed since Meredith had to be taken to his classes by federal marshals — yet the legacy of the past weighs heavily on some students.
As it does at Cabrini.
Our campus is just 55 years old. But we are also dealing with some present-day pervasive race issues that we aren’t comfortable discussing in public. Although our campus doesn’t have the history of segregation and desegregation that Ole Miss students are studying, students here do have connections to some other racially-tinged history that is evocative — and not easily forgotten.
That history may be as close as the person sitting across the table from you at lunch.
For example – Ariel “Cali ” Brown is a junior at Cabrini. Her grandfather was blinded by a white minister when he was only 12 years old. (check out his website here!) On March 19, 1952, a white minister shot at him and a group for friends. Fast forward to 2011 — Cali is now a sophomore who has been called a “nigger” while walking on the Cabrini College campus. She calls her grandfather to express her hurt and he is remarkably “unmoved” and not a bit surprised. After she is done talking to her grandfather, Cali is left to process the experience: how will it affect her life as a student at Cabrini? What impact does her grandfather’s life have on Cali as she now copes with her own experience of racism?
This derogatory word is used on this campus more often that one might think. Perhaps you have been a target — or an object of other derogatory words. Yet many students appear oblivious to the ever present self-segregation that plays out as they sit in class, gather in Cav’s Corner or Jazzman’s, study and attend parties.
Another sign of the self segregation at Cabrini — the Black Student Union plans one response to the use of this offensive racial epithet, and the Student Government another. Yet one of the lessons of the great crusades for social change of the 20th-century, like the Civil Rights, anti-war and women’s movements, is that positive change occurs when people work together.
Here are some questions for us to ponder:
- What does this story tell you about changes in racial attitudes?
- Can we learn from history, even if it reflects pain we might like to blot out?
- What do you wish would change on this college campus, if anything?
- How far do you think we have come?
- How much further do we have to go?
Please offer comments and reflections here. We’re most interested in what you have to say.