Around 60 people met last Saturday afternoon, April 15, at Metropolitan State University to discuss the impact of an article written in the campus newspaper that Black student leaders and many others on campus described as racist.
The commentary piece by Metro State student Ronnie Howell, titled “The evolution of Prejudice,” was published in the student-run campus newspaper The Metropolitan two weeks ago. It discussed the writer’s evolving understanding and personal opinions about racism in U.S. society and contained a number of derogatory references to Blacks and Latinos, beginning with the statement, “This article is intended to offend. It offends me, the author.”
In the piece, Howell describes her early upbringing in New York and Delaware in the early 1970s and her introduction to racist thinking. “I was immediately immersed in racial violence and outright hatred of me because of my skin color,” said Howell, who is White. “We lived on Main Street, which connected Dale Town (where all the ni***rs lived) and the southern part of town (where rich white folk lived).”
Howell’s commentary traces the development of her thinking on racial issues as a result of her contact with students of color at Metro State and a number of classes she’s taken since attending the school. She ends the article with a call for a humanist movement: “A mentor of mine…said he hated the existence of a feminist movement, the NAACP and other similar organizations because they perpetuated the stereotypes they try to dispel by their very nature.
“He proposed a single humanist movement to promote true equality of all, regardless of race, gender, color, creed, nationality or any other label… Will you join me in forming a humanist movement?”
Metro State’s African-American Student Association (AASA) raised concerns about the article with the editorial board and other responsible persons in the administration several days after it appeared in the newspaper. AASA leaders were confronted with an attitude that was “careless and nonchalant,” said Jason Sole of the AASA. “It was as if they [newspaper staff] were just trying to humor us.”
In the aftermath of that meeting, the AASA leadership issued a call for the editorial board to resign. They also issued demands for the newspaper’s editorial board to be restructured to include more students of color and for the university to develop an anti-racism class.
Meeting generates intense discussion
The AASA students also called for Saturday’s Town Hall Meeting. A diverse group of students, faculty, staff and community people, with an equally diverse range of opinions, participated in the meeting.
While almost everyone expressed problems with the article and the judgment of the editorial board in printing the piece without adequate explanation of its nature and purpose, there were different ideas on the author’s subjective motives and how to deal with the situation. “I did not hear this as a battle cry, but as a first-person account of someone who has left this behind, who was not trying to carry this into the future,” said community member Sandra Bebertz.
A number of people spoke to the broader issues of institutional racism at the school. “I’m reminded of Malcolm X’s comments about the chickens coming home to roost,” said Dr. Rose Brewer. Brewer is a professor of African-American Studies at the University of Minnesota and an adjunct faculty member of the Ethnic Studies Department at Metropolitan State.
“There’s some serious issues on this campus, and I think we should look at it as a signal,” Brewer continued. “Something is rotten in Denmark, and we need to look at institutional racism at Metro State.”
Sandra Richardson of the Peoples Institute North expressed similar concerns. “It’s a symptom,” said Richardson. “You can vilify this woman all you want to, but we have to look at the institutional racism on the campus.”
Metropolitan State University President Wilson Bradshaw was present and spoke to participants, amplifying on remarks he made several days earlier in a statement from his desk. In that statement Bradshaw said, “To be sure, the University does not intend to dictate the content of our student newspaper… Still, whether or not it was intended, the column has been detrimental to the learning and working environment.”
Other incidents on campus
A number of people in attendance spoke about other incidents of racism on campus. One student, Himadri Ahsan, who is a member of AIESEC Twin Cities, an international internship opportunities program, described a racist remark she encountered from another student at school. “A student said to me, ‘Muslims are followers of the f***ing Koran.’”
Metro State student and former AASA leader Chad Hendric showed pictures of a photo of student leaders posted on the student activities board in which pins had been stuck through the heads of the student leaders of color.
While the responsible persons on the editorial board have refused to resign, student leaders said that they would continue to pursue the issue. “We will continue to organize until our demands are met,” said Shvonne Johnson of the AASA.