If there is one thing that the OJ Simpson trial will be remembered for, it is the racial polarization felt by all who have an opinion of the trial. Even though the trial itself was a farce, it does say something about where we are today as an American culture. It seems as though the racial divide is growing ever wider in our culture. Terms such as African-American or Irish-American are only helping to expand separation based on ethnic background. Just the fact that people insist on being identified with a country where the last known ancestor left one hundred fifty years ago speaks volumes of America's 'melting pot'. It is only logical that this behavior has manifested itself on todays college campuses. There is little doubt that racial hostilities are increasing for college students (Baraka 28). The underlying question is what can be done to solve racism on campus?
It is first necessary to comprehend the causes and effects of racism on campus, and draw resolutions from that. There are many causes of racism on college campuses. For example, it is common to see white students engaging in conversations about minority groups on campus. It is in these groups, social or academic, that students have the power to express and persuasively communicate and reflect their own opinions and attitudes to other impressionable students. This is a prime example of how prejudice becomes shared and may form the basis of ethnic or racial discrimination during group interaction (Froman 521). In addition, racial conflicts on campus may be caused from a student's fear and derive from the defense of one's individual security. As a student develops their need for
securing their identity, this need may feed ethnic hostility and prejudice. The search for identity might involve, as a detour, the desire to identify, or to strengthen it through being prejudice (Bettelheim 33). Unconsciously, by expressing a prejudice attitude, a student can protect his own individuality. On almost all campuses, there are special organizations for minorities. Some white students may envy these groups and therefore condemn them in order to feel important about themselves(Feldstein 32).
Students who cannot find their own identity and resort to racism to raise their self-esteem have to be taught differently. Ignorance is the backbone of racism (Van Dijk 41). One approach that many universities are using to combat student racism is pre-requisite course for incoming freshman. The courses are designed to teach students of all colors diversity( Monroe 9). This is a very tempting solution, but a wrong one.
A sociologist by the name of Baxter once conducted an experiment which involved a summer camp for pre-teen boys. He divided the camp up into two separate yet equal parts. He then gave the two camps different names. The two camps were then pitted against one another in a variety of activities. Hatred amongst the two groups quickly erupted. Baxter noted that after some of the activities, it was hard to control their anger toward opposing camps. Reputations were quickly assigned to each camp by their opposition. All of the boys in camp X told Baxter that camp Y cheats whenever they get the chance. All of the boys in camp Y told Baxter that camp X was lazy and never did the camp chores correctly.
After almost losing control of the experiment, Baxter switched directions at the camp. He integrated the two camps into one. The boys were given tasks that unified the entire camp, and involved teamwork amongst every boy. The once bitter enemies now had to work together. Much to Baxter's surprise, the experiment worked. In the cafeteria where there was once inter-team fighting on a regular basis, boys from opposing teams began sitting together and becoming friends. As one final experiment, Baxter set up a fake situation where the water pipe that brought drinking water to the camp supposedly broke. The boys were given two options: they could re-form their old groups, or they could find and fix the problem as one team. Given the common objective and the opportunity to get to know one another, the boys chose the integrated team approach. The fake problem was diagnosed and fixed quickly and without incident. Although this experiment was meant for sociological and persuasive usage, its meaning is far more reaching than that.
This experiment gives a classic example of human nature. It is human nature to divide up other people into categories. These categories are quickly stereotyped and looked down upon by other groups. When a university teaches a diversity course in a passive classroom, the only thing students could possibly learn is that people who look different from them are different from them. A much better solution to campus racism is to design a pre-requisite course on co-operation. Much like the Baxter experiment, having a united goal is the solution to breaking some of the myths and lies of racism. A required course for incoming freshman could be titled something like College Studies 100. The general
title should give no hint of the actual objective of the course. Students would be less likely to resist change if they never notice it in the first place. The students in the class would be broken up into smaller groups of 3 or four. Ideally, each group would be as diversified as a textbook cover photo. Each group would be given the same objective, and emphasis would be put on the fact that the groups are not competing against each other.
Each member in the group would have to give a brief introduction about themselves to other members of the group. They would then be given a highly interactive group project that involved each member. The group would be encouraged to meet outside of class, preferably at the group members dorm rooms. The final project of the class would involve all members of the class working together to achieve a common goal. This would give each freshman the opportunity to get to know and possibly become friends with other people of different racial and socio-economic backgrounds. The class would help students realize that they are all more alike than they would like to admit. If nothing else, the students would walk away from the course knowing that they can work together with their fellow student, no matter what their skin color may be.
On college campuses, racism usually has taken the form of assertion that all members of what is called the white race are superior in mental and emotional qualities to all members of other races (Froman, 521). Although that statement is currently correct, there is hope. In a recent study of minority teen aged students, racial discrimination was not listed as their number one concern. They reported that the economy was what worried
them the most. This leads some researchers to believe that these teen aged minorities are not receiving the amount of racism that older generations have faced. Detractors of the study discount this finding by saying that the test subjects are simply too young to have been exposed to a large amount of racism. Either way the study is looked at, the results are good news for the future students of the nations universities.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere." The overall racial relations in the country seem to be improving. It is important for the United States system of higher education lead the way. There will always be racists in any given university, just as society as a whole. It is important to isolate these individuals and unify campuses against racism. These student racists will be forced into the woodwork, where their opinions will not be tolerated by others. The future holds no absolutes. With a conscious effort by college and university officials, the problem of campus racism can and will diminish to a level acceptable by all minorities: zero.
Baraka, Amrir; A Race Divided; Emerge, p 23-35; February 1996
Bettelheim, John; Social Change and Prejudice, New York: Delacorte Press, 1972
Feldstein, Stanley; The Poisoned Tongue, U.S. New and World Report, p 31-3;
September 22, 1995
Froman, Robert; Racism in the Classroom, Higher Education Journal, p 521, January
Monroe, Sylvester; The Color of Violence is Blue, Emerge, p 9-13; June 1991
Van Dijk, Teun; Communicating Racism, Sage, p 41-3, 1995
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