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Author of ‘Blackballed’ headlines Dillard University President’s Lecture Series, Feb 23

Author of ‘Blackballed’ headlines Dillard University President’s Lecture Series, Feb 23

From fraternities to administrative halls, American universities are failing to address serious race problems. In his new book, Lawrence Ross tells us how, and he brings the message to Dillard University, Feb. 23, at 7pm in the Georges Auditorium.

A close review of racism at American universities could hardly come at a better time. Since last fall’s protests at the University of Missouri (in response to a string of racist incidents) and at Yale University (in response to an administrative letter exchange about race-based Halloween costumes), colleges across the country are grappling with difficult questions of racial justice. Lawrence RossBlackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses enters this conversation-a necessary polemic, if somewhat narrow in its focus. Ross is less concerned with the historical racial factors that have shaped university culture than with the daily experiences of racism on campus. The book’s target is the old assumption that racism ended with the legal abolishment of slavery-the assumption that banning something (in this case, segregative admissions policies) does away with whatever belief systems enabled the banned behavior in the first place.

Blackballed by Lawrence Ross

Blackballed by Lawrence Ross

As Ross chronicles, it doesn’t. In 1923-more than 50 years after Harvard University officially banned admissions discrimination and graduated its first black student-the university decreed that “men of the white and colored races shall not be compelled to live and eat together,”  effectively forcing Black students to seek off-campus housing in whatever towns would have them. Such are the burdens on students who are “let in,” but not welcomed. That distinction between the notion of an opportunity (technically, black students can attend a particular school) and its reality (social and institutional forces impede those students’ success) has persisted into the 21st century.

Throughout his survey of anti-Black racism on campus, Ross riffs on a few recurring themes, drawing largely from interviews with Black students who attended college over the last 50 years. A favorite theme is to view the Greek system as a case study in institutional racism. (Ross’ breakout non-fiction book was The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities in 2001.)

A Brief History of the Dillard Presidential Lecture Series

Beginning with the university’s first official president, William Stuart Nelson in the 1930s, public intellectual discourse has been a part of Dillard’s heritage. In the 1950s, Albert Dent organized the Edwin R. Embree Memorial Lecture Series whose guests included Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jackie Robinson. Subsequently, Dillard presidents have assembled lectures that reflected their sensibilities. During Samuel DuBois Cook’s tenure, 1974 to 1997, he established a lyceum series, but also built a fine arts center to provide a new venue for lectures, theater and music. Walter M. Kimbrough launched Brain Food in 2013, and has continued the tradition with speakers such as Iyanla Vanzant, Misty Copeland, Benjamin Crump and Michael Steele.

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