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
"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
"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
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."