Text messages, social media employed in University of Alabama’s latest conversation about race, diversity

 

A student at "Check Yourself" holds up his card responding to a True-False question.


It’s not every day that students are invited to take out their phones in a large lecture hall while someone is talking or presenting.

But, that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night at University of Alabama’s Alston Hall where the campus chapter of the NAACP and the Student Government Association team up to challenge students to “check yourself” when it comes to handling issues of diversity on campus.

Nearly three dozen organizations sent representatives to this forum that had no panelists or experts.  Instead, everyone got involved in the discussion through responding to a series of TRUE-FALSE questions about the climate for diversity on the University of Alabama campus.

The dialogue was vigorous, yet democratic in nature as the most outspoken were in the audience, but at the front of the class.

I was invited by the NAACP chapter leaders to be one of four faculty mediators to help keep the discussions on track and step in if things got heated.

SGA President Grant Cochran spoke to those in atttendance at the "Check Yourself" forum.

SGA President Grant Cochran also addressed those in attendance.

Thankfully, we mediators did not have much to say as the discussion was more than civil.    It was refreshingly orderly and everyone kept his or her calm, an important ingredient when taking on the emotionally charged issue of race and ethnicity.

The Questions

Here are the nine True-False questions that the students tackled, many of which came from those in the audience submitting their question by text or via Twitter using the hashtag “#CheckYourself”

  1. Our campus is not diverse
  2. Greek life makes it impossible for non-Greeks to take part in the leadership on campus.
  3. Our campus is not accepting of the LGBT-Q (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning) communities.
  4. It is not acceptable for African Americans to join white fraternities and sororities.
  5. There is a substantial amount of advocacy groups for Asian students on campus
  6. Hispanics are a sub-group in the black-white spectrum.
  7. Minority groups on campus are insular and need to do a better job of making space for allies to join and participate in their groups.
  8. We as minority students are afraid to defeat The Machine (a system of white fraternities and sororities that reportedly collaborate in SGA elections and in selection of homecoming queen)
  9. The University of Alabama administration is hesitant when dealing with racial or minority issues.

Race is Still A Problem

On the same campus where former Governor George Wallace staged his infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” confrontation as Vivian Malone and James Hood integrated the UA in 1963,  there is still much to be done to ensure diversity in the student population and then to bring racial groups closer together  once they are here.

More Racial Incidents Reported

Apparently the incident this past February involving an African American student who reports being called the “n-word” by members of a white fraternity was not isolated.

Joyce Stallworth, president of the University’s Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA), of which I am a member, said she had fielded at least two reports of similar incidents at the beginning of this school year.

Stallworth told the crowd Wednesday night that both UA President Robert Witt and Provost Judy Bonner had invited the students to speak with them about the unfortunate incidents.

More than 100 people participated in the "Check Yourself" forum in Alston Hall on the University of Alabama campus.

Timing is Everything

Wednesday night’s forum came on the same day as the UA student newspaper, The Crimson White, reported on an African American female student’s unsuccessful bid to join a predominantly white sorority during the most recent rush last month, the largest in the nation.

Freshman Sherles Durham of Douglasville, Ga. reported being “dropped” in the third round.

“I think race might have come into play,” Durham told The Crimson White, which included comments from Melody Twilley Zeidan, who was rejected in the sorority rush in both 2000 and 2001.

The integration of the Greek system was a major topic for discussion at Wednesday’s forum, where one speaker made specific reference to the Crimson White article.

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Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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