More than 50 students and staff attended the forum titled "Want to Talk About Racism?" to discuss institutional racism at UNC. The event, which was organized by the On the Wake of Emancipation Campaign as part of Race Relations Week, included a panel of faculty members and student leaders, as well as Provost Robert Shelton.
The forum addressed questions of institutional racism stemming from a protest march OWEC members staged in April. Institutional racism is loosely defined as an organization's policies that covertly support racist practices and ideas.
During the April protest, the group presented Chancellor James Moeser with a list of 10 demands designed to make the campus a safe environment for students of color. Most of the panel members said they believe the University has done a good job addressing the list of demands but that they were still concerned about the damage an underlying attitude of racism can cause to the campus as a whole.
Panel member Fred Hashagen said the 10 demands were just symptoms of the overall problem of racism at UNC.
"Where each of the demands is concerned, we have had a great deal of support from the administration," said Hashagen, the student administrative assistant for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. "I think in terms of addressing the underlying problem of all of them, we face some resistance."
Faculty panel member Valerie Kaalund echoed Hashagen's point.
"If we address their demands as a way of appeasing a particular group, then ... you haven't gotten at the root," said Kaalund, a professor of African-American studies. "We need to change the attitude of upper-level administration to change the nature of (the University's) thinking."
As evidence of the attitude, some panelists and audience members pointed to the University's admissions policy of favoring "legacy" students whose parents are alumni of the University.
"When (blacks) were excluded from getting in at all, that makes it a lot more difficult for that group to be a part of this University," Hashagen said, referring to UNC's policy of not admitting blacks until 1951.
Shelton, who has been the liaison between OWEC and the administration, said he would look into the legacy admissions policy to determine the extent to which it is practiced.
Shelton said students' involvement in cultural groups can help them overcome discomfort they might feel when interacting with people of other races. "It is not how many groups we form or policies we implement ... in the end it is the individual that makes the difference."
But OWEC member Michael Woods said that it is more difficult to change an individual than the institution. "(OWEC) can begin to be an ally in changing the institution, but I don't think there is any formula for changing the human heart," Woods said.
Panel member and Black Student Movement President Kristi Booker said that although no resolution of the issues was reached, dialogues like this forum are a step in the right direction to educating more students. "If you can get one or two more people to start to think differently, then you have accomplished something."
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