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Racism on college campuses

GEORGE E. CURRY | 11/23/2015, 7:56 a.m.
As I followed recent events at the University of Missouri that culminated in the resignation of its president for mishandling ...
George Curry

(NNPA) – As I followed recent events at the University of Missouri that culminated in the resignation of its president for mishandling incidents of blatant racism on the Columbia, Missouri, campus, I thought back to an article I wrote as a Washington correspondent for the Chicago Tribune nearly three decades ago.

The article, published Feb. 17, 1987 – long before this current crop of college students were born – ran under the headline, “Racial Climate Turn Cool on Campuses.” I began the article by recounting the story of Douglas Wilson, an African American, being paired with Wade Bartley, who is White, in a dorm room at Penn State University.

“Luckily for both of us, I try very hard not to be prejudice, but the fact is that because we are of different races, we are very different both physically and mentally,” Bartley wrote in a term paper. “... My roommate, like most Blacks today, abuse and overextend the rights they have received.”

After reading the paper, Wilson was fuming.

“The two never reconciled their differences, and Wilson finally moved out and roomed with another black student.” I wrote. “While it is not the most dramatic example, some educators have called the Penn State incident symptomatic of an increase in racial tension on the campuses of the nation’s predominantly white universities.

“More vivid examples rocked the Citadel, a military academy where five white cadets dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia burst into the room of a black cadet, and at the University of Alabama, where a cross was burned in front of a building that was to house a black sorority.”

I also noted that a Black woman leaving her job as a telephone operator at the University of Pennsylvania was called derogatory names and was struck by a bottle of urine thrown from a dormitory window.

At Smith College, an elite women’s institution in Northampton, Massachusetts, the minority cultural center was defaced with the inscriptions, “Niggers, chinks and spics stop your complaining” and “Niggers go home.”

Two Black students at the State University of New York at Albany returned to their dorm and was met by a sign attached to their door reading, “We don’t want niggers on our floor. Leave tomorrow or die.”

The New York Times recently recounted a string of racist incidents under the headline, “At University of Missouri, Black Students See a Campus Riven by Race.”

It began, “At first, Briana Gray just chalked up the comments and questions from her new roommate at the University of Missouri to innocent ignorance: How do you style your hair? What do you put in it?

“But then her white roommate from rural Missouri started playing a rap song with a racial slur and singing the slur loudly, recalled Ms. Gray, a black senior from suburban Chicago. Another time, the roommate wondered whether black people had greasy skin because slaves were forced to sweat a lot.

“Then one day, Ms. Gray said, she found a picture tacked to her door of what appeared to be a black woman being lynched ...”