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where there's smoke: A building under construction next to the Logan Police Station caught fire from a welder's spark. Damage was estimated at $50,000. / Photo by Gideon Oakes

Today's word on journalism

August 27, 2008

On protests at political conventions:

"The citizens of Denver and St. Paul, and Americans everywhere, should hope officials in those cities already have considered both the constitutional and monetary costs of silencing voices that have a right to be heard. . . . Well-expressed or wacky. Irritating or illuminating. Respectful or raucous. There's nothing in the 45 words of the First Amendment that sets out any such qualifications or limits on protests. Time and again in our history, from women's suffrage to civil rights to tax protests, to name just some, voices first raised in the streets -- to the disgust or disappointment of some -- have led to significant, positive changes in law and American life."

--Gene Policinski, executive director, First Amendment Center, 2008

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Racism at USU? Black students offer their perspective

By C. Ann Jensen

May 23, 2008 | Nearly 45 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, some students at Utah State say they are still chasing that dream.

If one were to attend a Black Student Union meeting and ask the African-American students if they have experienced racial prejudice on the USU campus, one might hear responses such as:

"A girl asked me where my tattoos and gunshot wounds were, as though just because I am black I have them."

"A guy at the market place asked me if I was on an athletic scholarship, because I am black."

"People say I am the blackest white guy because I speak properly."

"When I first got up here people were like, 'Oh you are one of handicap minorities that was handed a scholarship."

"I met a guy and instead of calling me by my name he insists on calling me brown sugar all the time."

Although the degree of intolerance these students experience on campus is small compared to recent intolerant acts at Cal State Fullerton and Columbia University, where nooses were brought to a tolerance rally and hung on the doors of professors' offices, they are large enough for these students to question whether the students saying these comments are ignorant or racist.

Jeremy Gordon, a graduate student, said at USU the problem isn't that people are doing racist things but more of an instituted way of thinking.

"It's the fear of the other," said Gordon, who is white. "They would rather ignore other cultures than address the problem. I believe that education and media are two places to examine the root cause."

Paris Thomas, president of the Black Student Union, echoed Gordon's belief on racial intolerance at USU. She mentioned a recent event that made her more dedicated to encouraging people to get involved with other cultures.

Recently Thomas was asked to speak on an African-American panel for a diversity class at USU. She said the experience was one of biggest experiences in which she felt people were ignorant about race and culture.

"When we went to talk to the class, the group that was presenting African-American race to the class asked if anyone knew what civil rights were and no one raised their hand," said Thomas. "I was shocked."

Thomas said the group went on to give a slide show about African-American culture and ethnicity and "it felt more like a book report about an animal than an actual presentation. The way they described it was like this is their watering hole, this is where they raise their young. I felt so sad because all these people were so unexposed."

Thomas encouraged the class to get out to experience different cultures. She told them, "The only way to experience culture is to experience it and live it, not to read about it".

According to Gordon, racism doesn't end with the African-American population but continues to affect the Hispanic community. Gordon said the immigration raid at Miller's Blue Ribbon Beef, in cache valley, has sparked the immigration debate to now focus more on demonizing a group, not individuals, which is harmful to the community.

Gordon and Thompson both agree that there are things that can be done for students to have a cultural experience outside of the classroom and with their peers in order to educate themselves on world culture.

Gordon said, "Ultimately, it's positive exposure. Stop painting your picture with BET and MTV. Read something other than books by dead white males, read Toni Morrison or Langston Hughes. It comes down to an open embracing of differences instead of wanting things be all the same."

Looking at the race problem across the United State, Thomas and Gordon both see that it isn't just with African Americans but minority groups as a whole and are striving to make a change in the way people think about race, and what Gordon said the media has shown them.

Thomas said, "You almost have to unlearn what you have learned through media to understand a culture"

Criticizing cinematic portrayals of minorities and the way that media as a whole paints culture is a problem on a nation scale, as well as locally. Gordon said "there needs to be more exposure in the campus press and community for people to start thinking differently."

When it comes to the racial remarks that people say to Thomas and other students of racial minorities on campus Thomas said, "I hear all the time, 'I have a black friend so whatever racist remark I said is washed from the board.' You can have two black friends; those remarks are still unacceptable."



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