Race Relations Experiment Conducted

On Monday, November 16, the students in Education 305: Race & Education with Associate Professor of Educational Studies John Palmer hosted a student-led discussion on the current state of Colgate race relations in the O’Connor Campus Center (Coop) TV room. The event, although planned for weeks, was only announced hours before it was to happen.

The discussion was structured around the three social experiments conducted on campus earlier in the day by the students in Education 305. Experiments were filmed on the Persson Hall steps, in the Coop dining area and Curtiss E. Frank Dining Hall. Videos of each scenario were shown before the discussion began for a packed Coop TV room. Each segment involved some type of racial altercation in order to gauge student reactions to instances of racism on campus.

Shot on the Persson Hall steps, the first scenario involved two actors, one Caucasian and the other Latin American yelling back and forth over the latter’s supposed use of the race card in class. Staged at a time when students were leaving classes, the steps were well populated with bystanders. The altercation culminated with the Caucasian girl dismissing the Latin American girl, within earshot of all the bystanders, with a derogatory term for Hispanics. To the amazement of some, and the expectation of others, not a single student intervened.

Around the same time, in the Coop dining area, another verbal argument was taking place between a half-Asian student and a Caucasian student over a recent test in which the half-Asian student earned a higher score than his white counterpart. This back and forth quickly escalated to hollering and, once again, no one said anything. A room full of onlookers was absolutely complacent.

The final staged incidence occurred in Frank Dining Hall between a female student of color and a Caucasian male. When the two collided by the beverage section, the former dropped her bowl, which crashed to the floor. Once more, the students exchanged strong words. At the culmination of the argument, the female raised her finger up to the male, to which he scolded her to “get that black finger out of my face.” For the first time, another student of color, who self-identified with the victim, approached the Caucasian student to intervene. At this point, the scenario was exposed as staged and rapidly diffused.

One student, who witnessed the first scenario on the Persson Hall steps, explained that he simply didn’t know what to say when faced with such an exchange. Other complacent students from both the Coop dining area and Persson steps implied they would have only intervened if the situation became physical. The lone student to intervene recalls feeling that when the comment about the young woman’s “black finger” was made, he stepped in because he felt as if it was said to him.

The discussion was well attended by a diverse array of Colgate students interested in the state of racism at Colgate. Over the course of the discussion, the complacency of the majority of the student body was a theme that kept resurfacing. Of the students in attendance who contributed to the discussion, most believed such events happen often with little response from bystanders, Campus Safety or the Administration. Much emphasis was placed on racism at the individual level between racist and victim and the difficulties of changing a person’s outlook.

In the open discussion, one of the most poignant remarks was made by a young woman who observed that  “everyone is a bit racist, due to our culture and the reality we all live.” She went on to explain how, ironically enough, once such values are ingrained in personal psyches people are then told to be ashamed of them. She believes “the solution is to recognize racism exists within each individual and work on eliminating prejudices with oneself, first.”

Palmer concluded the discussion with a few closing remarks, stressing the need to eradicate racist tendencies on an institutional level as well as those within the individual. According to the participants in the discussion, the message of utmost importance is to simply say something in the face of injustice; what exactly is said does not matter. Moreover, these participants concluded that identifying the existence of complacency within the individual and the broader community is the first step in becoming conscious of the prejudices that exist, and racial consciousness and the willingness to challenge the status quo are the first steps in properly addressing racism at Colgate.