Bahai News - Interaction key to better campus racial relations

Interaction key to better campus racial relations

Opinions Forum by Cami Henderson, 11/23/94
Page 07

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court made one of its most important decisions, concerning the case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Chief Justice Warren stated that "...in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place." In light of that statement, we should ask ourselves why we are trying so hard to reestablish segregation. Unknowingly or unintentionally, through our unwillingness to associate with other ethnic groups we are subjecting ourselves to voluntary segregation. We have the opportunity to expand our social knowledge by interacting with other ethnic groups which should be a part of the natural progression in an increasingly diverse environment, but usually, we don't. If we continue in this direction we will recreate the practice of separate-but-equal institutions, which is inherently contradictory.

I was raised to believe that racism is the most challenging issue facing America, and that the eradication of racism was a responsibility that lies on the shoulders of all races. As an interracial woman and a member of the Baha'i faith, I grew up in a very diverse social setting. Attempting to adjust to racial separation on this campus was very difficult for me. However, this year I decided I wasn't interested in getting used to this separation, and that I would look at this issue the way I had been raised to, which is as a problem. One of the most challenging aspects surrounding the issues of social segregation and racism on a college campus, or anywhere, is explaining why its so important to find a solution.

The standard arguments to be made for the importance of finding common ground among diverse people are not as applicable on a college campus. We don't give much thought to the idea that this is our biggest opportunity to learn ourselves and others. We often overlook the fact that by staying exclusively within our own cultural group, we are limiting ourselves. The argument that prejudice and stereotypes are conquered through close association and friendship, not separation and science, between diverse people doesn't seem to hold much weight at the University.

Yet, it is important to keep in mind one thought, regardless of the fact that we are at this university to receive an education: We don't know as much as we think we do. Racism and prejudice are blind imitations of the past. If we're so educated, why have we chosen to carry on the prejudices, stereotypes and hatred of past generations without questioning their validity or worth? Many people dismiss these arguments because they seem too idealistic and they involve a great deal of effort and change. However, it is essential to remember that the problems we face are enormous, and we must have faith and idealism to solve them, coupled with hard work and flexibility.

The racial status quo under which we live embraces such lofty ideals as injustice, racial separation and violence that is destroying the fabric that holds our community together. I have often heard the statement that, "we'll be able to solve these problems as soon as we get our own house in order."

The problem with this plan is that we don't live in separate houses. The world is our common house, and each race has its own room. These rooms are the storehouses for all the cultural beauty and history that every ethnic group has. Unfortunately, we're so busy polishing our personal artifacts that we're totally unaware that the foundation of our house is crumbling. We are moving closer and closer to an increasingly interdependent, international world. However, the common reaction to this increased diversity in every sphere of society has been a growing trend toward ethnocentrism, separatism and the nursing, instead of the healing, of old wounds.

We don't live in this world by ourselves, and we will not wake one day to find that everyone outside of our own ethnic group has disappeared. We will have to deal with all kinds of people, everyday. We ought to consider it part of our education at the University to prepare ourselves for this task. Greater intercultural understanding comes from very simple actions. We need to start desegregating our parties, the tables at the Down Under and every other place we coexist but don't interact. We will not solve this problem if we work independently.

Forum submitted by Camille Henderson, sophomore in LAS.


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