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N.C. State Professors Host 'teach-in' In Response To Racial Slurs

This story was written by Alex Vaughn, Technician
The threat painted in the Free Expression Tunnel Nov. 5 prompted not only discussion on hate speech and North Carolina State University regulations -- but discussion on the history of racial slurs and images and their significance.

Four members of the history department will be hosting a teach-in Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Withers Hall in response to the Free Expression Tunnel incident of Nov. 5.

Titled The Gun, The Flag, and The Noose, the event will be a discussion of the historical significance of the racist language and symbols found on display in the Tunnel the morning after Barack Obamas presidential victory was announced.

Katherine Mellen Charron, an assistant professor of history that will be speaking at the event, said a teach-in is usually focused on a current event and is meant both to educate the campus on the complexities of that issue and to create a forum where the issue can be discussed.

Were hoping to affect the conversation, Blair Kelley, an assistant professor of history who will also be speaking at the event, said. Our concern was that the historical roots of the images being placed up there were not being discussed.

Symbols, which also appeared in the tunnel, will be discussed including the Ku Klux Klan, lynching and the confederate flag, Kelley said.

All of this has a historical basis and we cant think of it outside of that historical context, she said.

Kelley said reaction to the incident should be focused more on creatively educating the student body regarding the history of oppression in the U.S. rather than punishment for those responsible.

I would hope that they dont really know the history, Charron said, regarding the four students involved with the tunnel incident.

She said she hoped the students were not aware that these symbols were once associated with homegrown terrorism and are not to be taken lightly.

There are these symbols that are all around us all the time but we dont always understand their historical context and how theyve operated to oppress people or to terrorize people, she said.

Charron said the issue of how the meaning of a symbol changes over time will be a topic of discussion, giving as an example the different identities of the confederate flag during the Civil War and during the civil rights movement.

These symbols permeate our culture and they have permeated our culture, particularly here in the south, for over a hundred years, and theyre kind of out there and available for appropriation and use by people and they mean different things at different times in history too, Charron said.

Brian Brockway, a senior in zoology, said he thought the messages painted in the tunnel were appalling and ignorant.

His initial reaction was that the graffiti was left by someone who was not involved with the University, he said.

Its just surprising that college students have to be like that, he said.

Brockway said he thought the event was a good idea, and he hoped that information learned there would reach those who most need to hear it.

It could be good to educate people who are really angry or frustrated and dont really understand where its coming from to be more well informed, and they can probably inform somebody else, he said.