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About 70 members of the campus community gathered at noon today for a discussion on racial profiling in Interfaith Chapel, Hogg Hall.

Led by Bryan Washington, associate professor of English, the event was the sixth in an expanded series of Campus Conversations addressing issues related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Rather than focusing on one or more speakers, the forum provided opportunities for many to share their thoughts and engage in dialogue.

The next Campus Conversation will feature a panel of three speakers from the Islamic Center of the Lehigh Valley in Whitehall. They will talk about “Islam: Far Away From Terrorism,” 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, in 104 Kirby Hall of Civil Rights.

In addition, former neo-Nazi Frank Meeink will talk about his experiences and issues of racism and hated 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, in Colton Chapel.

Washington, who described himself as a “skeptical” patriot, noted that those bearing any resemblance to people of Middle Eastern descent are experiencing racial profiling in the U.S.. “People who look vaguely ethnic are experiencing problems right now,” he said.

Washington was one of several who shared their experiences as victims of racial profiling and prejudice in general. Like other African-Americans, Washington said, he is rejected because of his race when attempting to hail cab drivers in New York City.

Landon Adams ’02 told of recently greeting a couple in Washington, D.C., who responded by giving a frightened look and walking away.

Another student spoke of being detained and questioned at the airport on three separate occasions at airports in England when visiting her sister.

Fidel Maltez ’05 said that he hung the Nicaraguan flag on his door and returned to his room repeatedly to find it ripped, then eventually missing. Someone also wrote an obscenity on his door in reference to Fidel Castro. His experience sparked discussion about issues such as what should be done to respond to and help prevent racial incidents.

Mehmet Uz, professor chemical engineering, questioned whether the prejudice behind racial profiling has a cure. Events like the Sept. 11 attacks give “closet racists” an opportunity to act out their beliefs, he added.

Mentioning several news accounts of racist acts committed in the wake of the attacks, Irshad Haji ’02 said, “It’s the same thing that the terrorists are doing, but it’s happening in our land to our people.”

Shirley Satuh ’03 urged all in attendance to look into their own hearts for signs of prejudice, regardless of their status as minorities or those in the majority. “Everyone has their own prejudices,” she said. “Just because one is in the majority doesn’t mean the rest of us are innocent.”

One of several students and faculty members to discuss the causes of stereotyping, Dan McClendon ’03 cited the negative images of minorities displayed on television, which foster the idea that all blacks speak and act in the same way.

Dean of Studies Humanities Fellow Ross Gay ’96 noted that although his Caucasian mother married a black man, she still has made inappropriate statements that reflect a lack of understanding about him and his father. The main problem of racism is not simply lack of exposure to information and examples of minorities, he said, but rather the overwhelming exposure to negative images of minorities throughout the culture.

Among those proposing solutions, Nana Bentsi-Enchill ’02 pointed out that professors’ words and behavior influence students, calling on them to address issues such as racism in their classes. The Campus Conversation was “preaching to the converted,” she said.

Susan Basow, Charles A. Dana Professor of Psychology, stressed the distinction between prejudiced feelings and behavior. Although education can help, it is hard to influence other people’s attitudes, she said. As a community, people can work together to display solidarity with victims of prejudice and use social pressure to make it clear that bigoted behavior is unacceptable, she said.

People largely form their impressions, including prejudice and fear, through narratives, said William Carpenter, assistant professor of English. “We can deconstruct these stories for their narratives and meanings,” he said, calling for classroom discussions of topics such as the use of language and its implications.

Emefa Woananu ’03 questioned why someone needs to be taught about a person’s cultural background to keep from having a prejudiced viewpoint. “Personally, when I’m looking at someone, I don’t see a color – I see a person,” she said.

People need to realize the need for education and attend programs sponsored by the Association of Black Collegians (ABC) and Nia, said Zakiyyah Haynesworth ’02, president of ABC. “If you want to learn, you have to step out of your comfort zone,” she said.

Carrie Spell, dean of intercultural development, told the group that “what we need to do is encourage people” to take part in opportunities such as the Campus Conversations and make them feel comfortable about expressing their feelings, regardless of what they may be. She also urged African-Americans to learn about other cultures.

Liz McMahon, professor of mathematics, said that if she had her way, all those in attendance would sign a promise to have books in their homes about many different minorities and cultures to educate their children.

The Campus Conversations series is sponsored by the offices of the college chaplain, dean of students, dean of studies, and intercultural development; the Lafayette Activities Forum; the International Students Association; Student Government; and members of the faculty.

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