Jena 6 discussion panel well-attended

By Peter Wright

The legal battle six black students of Jena High School in Jena, La., are currently fighting was the starting point for a panel discussion about race and racism at American colleges on Nov. 8 in the Weyerhaeuser Chapel.Two Macalester students, a Macalester faculty member and a professor from the University of Minnesota spoke at the event. Brittany Lewis ’09 (a member of the Macalester College Student Government’s Program Board), and Rebecca Holohan ’10 (a resident of Macalester’s Cultural House) were joined by Jane Rhodes (chair of the American Studies department and dean for the study of race and ehtnicity) and Rose Brewer (a Program Director for the

African-American and African Studies department at the University of Minnesota).

Kyera Singleton ’11 moderated the event. She kicked off the panel discussion by saying that racism on American campuses may be on the rise, recalling Macalester’s own incident with the “politically incorrect” party last year, when one student arrived at a party dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan with a fake noose around the neck of another student dressed in black face.

Brewer also linked the ramifications of the “politically incorrect” party to recent incidents of racism at surrounding universities. She cited an incident last month at Hamline University, when several football players dressed in black face for a Halloween party. At Minneapolis Community and Technical College last month, the assistant editor of the student newspaper hung a noose, apparently unaware of its racial connotations, in the newspaper office as a threat to reporters who did not comply with deadlines.

Brewer said that she has no doubt about the negative power of a noose. She said that it represents a history of 4,000 lynchings in America, and that it never loses that power, even when used in a prank.

“It goes beyond the surface of it,” Brewer said. “It goes deeply into the history of racism in America.”

Much of the discussion focused on raising student engagement and awareness about issues pertaining to race.

“[Students] have so much more power than they think,” Lewis said. “They have so much more voice.”

Brewer and Rhodes also called for more student involvement. Rhodes said that some students act like they think they are not racist, like they have a ticket to say anything they want to say, even if it may be considered racially offensive.

“That’s not the way the First Amendment was framed,” Rhodes said, “but that’s been the consequence of a political system that’s permeated your lives.”

But when she answered an audience member’s question, Rhodes was quick to counter the notion that there is absolutely no activism. She said that activism still exists, but it is more community-based and less publicized.

Immediately following the panel discussion, several audience members remained and formed small groups to discuss what had been presented.

Singleton said she felt the panel was well-received, particularly since so many people attended.

“I didn’t think many people would show up,” she said.

The panel was the educational part of a series of events partially organized by Macalester’s Black Liberation Affairs Committee. The other main program was a hip-hop benefit show held for the six students on Nov. 10, organized by BLAC, Program Board, Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Student Union at the University of Minnesota.