Written by Dr. David Wilson, Originally Published Nov. 12, 2001
The recent racial controversy following Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam’s refusal to resign after the resurfacing of a racist photo from his yearbook and fashion houses like Gucci and Prada making apologies over the weekend for blackface in high fashion, the AFRO located an editorial written by David Wilson published 17 years ago in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Nov. 12, 2001.
Auburn failing to diversify, teach its students tolerance
Racist photos at Auburn University depicting members of two white fraternities dressed in black face, donning Klansmen outfits and brandishing rifles in front of a Confederate flag force me to ask a fundamental question: What are we teaching these students at Auburn?
Apparently, not very much, especially not much about the multicultural world in which we live. We are not doing an effective job in and out of our classrooms teaching these young men and women about the atrocities of slavery and about respect for humankind.
Students should emerge from their undergraduate years not only with unquestionable competence in their chosen major, but with a critical consciousness that guides and sustains them through the maze of political and social contexts that will form the fabric of their daily existence in this world.
Freedom from oppressive thought and idealogy and a mind open to the unique histories, contributions and circumstances of those who differ in ethnicity, gender and class should be the result of an effective undergraduate education. However, based on the actions of those students, as well as on conversations I have had with scores of other Auburn students, it appears that we are falling woefully short of achieving these goals.
I do not mean to suggest that the majority of students at Auburn has not been positively affected by the values with which the institution aims to instill in them through the core curriculum. But the sad conclusion is that too many of these racist incidents have reared their ugly, white-sheeted heads at Auburn, and even within the city of Auburn, over the last few years to convince me that we should be satisfied with the job we are doing in the classroom. We need to rethink our core curriculum, asking ourselves what values do we really expect an Auburn graduate to embrace, and then put in place the courses to expose students to these concepts.
It seems we are teaching our students that it’s OK to harbor racial hatred; it’s OK to look upon blacks as inhuman or as less than whites. Sociologists call this kind of pathological thinking ethnocentricism. It simply means that one is indoctrinated into believing that his/her race is superior to everyone else’s race.
While I thoroughly enjoy what I do at Auburn, I must admit my seven-year tenure has been marked with intense frustration. Auburn is too white. There are no black deans or associate deans, nor are there any black academic department heads. Believe it or not, Auburn has never even had a black dean or associate dean.
While Auburn currently enrolls the largest number of black students in its history, at the senior administration level, I am it. It should not be this way, especially in a state where 25 percent of the population is African-American. The simple fact is that while the costumes worn by the fraternity members are the most offensive I have seen on a college campus, I proffer that these young men are only acting out what they think the Auburn culture accepts and tolerates.
I predict that over the next few weeks, our university will sponsor numerous workshops and seminars promoting diversity, tolerance and acceptance of cultural and ethnic differences. But when all is said and done the fundamental culture of Auburn University will go unchanged unless we seek to change the foundation upon which the institution rests. This is my goal.
Auburn currently has interim positions everywhere — president, provost, vice president, six deans and numerous other senior level positions. Let’s see how many of these positions will be filled with African-Americans or people of color. My guess is none. I hope I am wrong. I am lonely on the Plains and am desperately seeking company.
Dr. David Wilson is vice president for outreach at Auburn University, the university’s first African-American vice president.
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