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Exploring the long history of racial politics on college campuses nationwide

Courtesy Lawrence Ross

Lawrence Ross, an award-winning author and lecturer, spoke about widespread racism on college campuses. He was invited by the University of Arizona Fraternity & Sorority Programs.

The University of Arizona Fraternity & Sorority Programs invited award-winning author and lecturer Lawrence Ross to speak on campus about a critical issue that has continued on college campuses: widespread racism.

One of the main organizers of the event was Marcos Guzman, interim assistant director for the Fraternity & Sorority Programs.

“Council leaders attended the Association of Fraternal Leaders and Values Conference and attended Lawrence Ross’ presentation,” Guzman said. “They believed his lecture would make a positive impact within the Greek community and the UA community.”

Ross has given lectures and presentations about campus racism at over 600 colleges around the country. 

His interest in addressing racism within different Greek organizations came from Ross’ membership in Alpha Phi Alpha. His work explains the importance of accepting one another, facing the fact that racism still exists and has not gone away over time. 

The hour-and-a-half multimedia lecture, “Know Better, Do Better: Campus Racism and You”, showed the audience an array of slides that exemplified how both insidious and overt forms of racism are present on school grounds. 

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Ross’ novels, “Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses” and “The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities,” showcase his expertise in Greek Life and the issues surrounding campus racism. 

Caroline Schwark, the Panhellenic Council president, was on board with inviting Lawrence Ross to campus.  

“For all of the amazing work the University of Arizona does to educate students on current social issues and to encourage progression in our campus culture, we don’t often enough look to our past to see how it has influenced our current reality,” Schwark said. “Our Greek Speak event with speaker Lawrence Ross is an excellent opportunity to engage in critical thinking about how institutionalized racism has shaped our Greek culture across the United States, and how we here at The University of Arizona have the chance to create a more inclusive environment and a better future for Greek Life.”

The lecture started with Ross reciting a racial chant, which he revealed came from a 2015 viral video featuring members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma. The video ignited a national discussion relating to modern-day racism on college campuses. 

Ross provided an extensive number of examples of racist incidents that occurred on college campuses from the past five years and in the early part of the 20th century. The incidents range from cultural appropriation at parties, images on social media of white students in blackface with racially insensitive captions and offensive stereotypical imagery. 

A key statement that Ross made multiple times during the presentation is, “Racism is always connected to violence.” The violence that occurs does not necessarily have to be physical but can be psychological. 

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Ross later discussed the four areas of campus racism: the “legacy” of segregation and anti-Affirmative-Action laws, Greek Life, campus symbolism and microaggressions. 

Ross told the audience that whether the topic relates to racism or anything in life, the goal is to “understand the context of the situation, not just the content.” 

The presentation included events like the 1963 incident involving the governor of Alabama at the time, George Wallace, standing at the door of an auditorium, attempting to block the entrance of two black students. 

A 2011 incident at Ross’ alma mater the University of California, Berkeley, where baked goods were sold at different costs for different race groups and numerous other similar scenarios that have occurred over the years, were explained throughout the lecture. 

Ross reflected on the several universities that he has visited and the impact the students have made on him. The presentation ended with him showing an image that he took with the students at one of his lectures. 

Ending on a somber note, Ross mentions that he found out that something tragic happened to one of the students in the photo.  

“I never want to go to another event and find out that someone I took a picture with gets killed because of being a person of color.” 

The audience reportedly went completely silent, and the talk finished with applause moments later.

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