When University of Alabama graduate student Justin Zimmerman, an African-American, was inundated last week by a white Delta Tau Delta member with racial slurs, the most common response is to say that these types of events are unique, and not systemic, or as they’re more commonly called, “isolated incidents”. Yet, when taking a look at racism and college campuses over the past decade, we see a fairly consistent presence of racist incidents, particularly involving white fraternities and black students. And colleges and universities are going to have to do a better job at making sure minority students feel safe on their campuses.
Since 2004, college campuses have been rife with offensive and racist incidents. So called “Ghetto Fabulous” parties, where white students are encouraged to dress up as black rappers or “ghetto” residents, complete with gold teeth, black face, gold chains, and fake pregnant stomachs representing “black baby’s momma’s”, have taken place on campuses as diverse as Cornell University and the University of Texas Law School.
In 2007, at Tarleton State University in Texas, white students celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday by having a party where partygoers ate fried chicken, drank malt liquor, and one dressed as Aunt Jemima. These MLK “themed” parties were popular in 2007, as the University of Arizona found out when pictures of UA students attending an MLK party were seen on Facebook wearing black face, and fur coats. This party asked attendees to dress as their “favorite black person” in order to “honor” MLK. Clemson University got into the act when a group of students celebrated MLK by hosting a gangsta party.
WATCH COVERAGE OF THE ALABAMA INCIDENT HERE:
And African-Americans aren’t the only group attacked by white college students. As Latino students increase their numbers on college campuses, they’ve often been the focus of racial stereotypes. At the University of Illinois in 2006, students held a “Taco and Tequila” party, where Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority held a fiesta party, complete with “pregnant” partygoers, sombreros, ponchos, and “illegal aliens”. At Santa Clara University and the University of Delaware, “South of the Border” parties depicted Latinos as janitors, “cholas” or Mexican female gangsters, and other stereotypes.
Parties aren’t the only place where overt racism is occurring on college campuses. In 2010 at the University of Missouri, someone put hundreds of cotton balls in the Black Cultural Center, trying to associate African-Americans with slavery era cotton fields. And back at the University of Alabama, after the Zimmerman case of made public, someone wrote racial epitaphs in chalk around campus, in an effort to say that even charged racial speech is protected by the First Amendment.
In fact, that’s an argument many conservative and free speech advocates often make. These groups deride anti-racism activists as being saddled with politically correct speech, and think that all speech should be protect, no matter how odious. But universities clearly recognize that in the age of social media, racist images hurt their university’s brand, and they’ve got to act fast in order to make sure their college students and the general public don’t get the idea that this is a regular occurrence on their campuses.
But schools must do more. Overt racist parties and incidents only bubble up when the covert racism on campus feels comfortable enough to show itself in the light. Education among students, particularly white students, about why stereotyping is not just “good fun” and is harmful will go a long way toward make each and every college campus a welcome one, no matter what a student’s race, religion or creed.