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The Daily Tar Heel

Panel Discusses Institutional Racism

UNC's Freedom Legacy Project and the Campus Y sponsored an open panel discussion challenging the issue and its place on campus.

Panelists including student organizer Erica Smiley, community activist Fred Battle, former Black Cultural Center member Michelle Cottman, former Student Congress Speaker Pro Tem Sandi Chapman and women's studies Professor Rashmi Varma assembled to encourage discussion and dialogue about this often overlooked issue.

"Racism has been plaguing our campus ever since it has been around," said project member Jermain Reeves. "We want to encourage dialogue discussion about (institutional racism)."

Smiley started off the discussion and said that society expects less from people of color and that blacks should fight for justice instead of trying to assimilate into society. "I think this is about liberation because we are reclaiming what we had all along."

Chapman introduced the idea of white privilege. She said white privilege is an unclaimed privilege that whites simply have because of the color of their skin. "White people don't understand that institutional racism and white privilege are mutually perpetuating," she said. "Being and looking white is privileged."

She also said it is not enough for whites to say they are not racist because as a white person, one benefits from racism. "You have to be anti-racist, not just saying that you have black friends."

Cottman said there is a misconception that the Chapel Hill area is affluent, diverse and tolerant. But she said she had to sacrifice and fight to have the same opportunities that white students had on campus. She encouraged blacks to build a coalition with other organizations outside of the University.

Varma also said the combination of different ethnicities does not equate to diversity on campus because students of color still struggle to receive the same privileges. "Can diversity ever include justice?" she asked.

Battle expressed his concern that some of the country's founders, such as black slaves, have never received recognition for their achievements. "You would think that since times have changed, things would change," he said.

Pressing issues such as affirmative action, reparations for slavery and racial profiling were also brought up during the discussion.

Overall, the panelists agreed that to tackle the racism issue, students must come together, stand strong, engage in open debate and take leadership on campus.

"The only way someone can ride your back is if it is bent," Battle said. "Stand up for what you believe in."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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