Photo by Rachael Ann Keisling / Contributing Writer
Story by William Green / Contributing Writer
Both national history and a recent incident on campus were the subject of a discussion, entitled “Current Day Warriors for Social Justice,” in the Student Union Building Wednesday as part of MTSU’s Black History Month events.
Presented by the MTSU Black Student Union, the discussion on social justice and white supremacy was led by MTSU Africana Studies Director Louis Woods and had an air of urgency in light of a recent vandalism of an MTSU Black History Month poster.
In between PowerPoint slides on the academic nuances of social justice, students were bombarded with the image of a sticker that had the phrase “Protect White Families” on it. The sticker, which promoted the white nationalist group Vanguard America, was discovered Friday, Jan. 26, outside of the library and was pasted over a Black History Month event poster.
“White supremacists have felt empowered in the last year and a half,” Woods said.
Woods also stated that the incident was part of a broader nationwide push by neo-Nazi groups onto college campuses.
In early October 2017, just weeks before white supremacist groups were to gather for a rally on the Murfreesboro Public Square, fliers from another categorized hate group, Identity Evropa, were found on the MTSU campus.
The University of Chattanooga’s Black History Month posters were also vandalized Wednesday by supporters of Vanguard America, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. In response to that incident and others in the state, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro issued a statement on the subject Thursday, saying, “The ugly reality is, extremist groups are actively organizing, targeting colleges and universities in an attempt to be heard and to grow their ranks.”
According to reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that actively tracks hate crimes and groups throughout the country, the number of extremist and hate groups rose to 917 in 2016 from the 892 groups that were identified in 2015. SPLC reports also display that there were 38 identified active hate groups in 2016, including a Murfreesboro chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Woods and the students in attendance debated the reasons for such expressions of hate and how they fit into the broader issue of race relations on campus. To some students in the room, while MTSU might be diverse statistically, it falls short of cultivating an integrated and racially conscious environment.
One student recounted his experience of often being the only black person in his classes and frequently having to address stereotypes and ignorant comments. However, the problem didn’t end there.
“We leave our classrooms that are ‘diverse’ and then go to our groups” in places that are informally segregated, such as the Student Union and KUC, the student said.
The controversy over the name of Forrest Hall also loomed large in the discussion. Woods used headlines from Sidelines throughout the past 50 years to illustrate how the issue, and some of the broader racially insensitive branding of the school and its athletic program, had been a source of continual racial tension on campus for decades. For decades, the mascot for the MTSU Blue Raiders was a Confederate soldier, which was dressed as one of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry “raiders”.
Woods urged students to be the force for change they wanted to see on campus. He encouraged them to take action instead of relying on faculty for support. The administration is inclined to be more accountable to the students as “customers,” Woods said.
“If we could appreciate that we have differences and different values and different perspectives, I think we would fight a lot less,” Woods said. “The good thing about diversity is that there’s no monopoly on talent, and if we can galvanize the diversity amongst us, I think that’s the future of the country.”
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