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Baylor U. Diversity Coalition Meets For First Time Following Racially-charged Events

This story was written by Jade Ortego, The Lariat

(UWIRE) -- After two weeks of outrage over racially charged events stemming from the results of the year's presidential election, the new Coalition for Diversity met Monday with members of the Baylor University administration to present initiatives to encourage appreciation of diversity.

The coalition includes representatives of Baylor's chapter of the NAACP, Baylor Democrats, Project Dignity, Fellowship Among Cultures, Ethnicities and Shades (F.A.C.E.S), and some members of student government.

Proposals included the addition of a multicultural wing to the new Student Union Building, diversity training for faculty and a required diversity class for freshman in the University 1000 program. They also discussed renaming Fountain Mall "Unity Mall."

The students emphasized a need for the inclusion of multicultural events as a mainstream part of the Baylor experience, said Oscar Boleman, senior and president of the Baylor Democrats.

Last Friday at 9 a.m., 200 students gathered to march for racial unity. Multiple organizations worked to plan the silent march, which was in response to the hanging of a perceived noose and threats and racial epithets aimed at President-elect Barack Obama supporters, who were celebrating the results on Election Day.

The march began outside of Waco Hall, where Ryan Phipps, senior and president of the Association of Black Students, asked those gathered to shout the names of the groups they represented. At least 20 were called out, including numerous sororities and fraternities, the Baylor School of Social Work, the Baylor Democrats and parents of Baylor students.

Phipps said that he feels that the incidents on Election Day were not isolated events but were indicative of underlying racism at Baylor.

"This did not just happen last week. This has been going on a long time," Phipps said.

The group moved to Morrison Hall, where a rope thought to be a noose was found hanging from a tree on the morning of Election Day. As the crowd moved, the organizers encouraged them to meet someone new.

Devin Culberson, Spring freshman, who found the rope, told the story of what happened. Then three students who say they were playing with the rope the night before Election Day said they had actually made a swing and left it in the tree. They apologized and explained their intentions to the crowd.

"Please have an open heart and an open mind because we do believe them," said Prisca Anuolam, senior and president of the Baylor NAACP.

Senior Jeremy Miller gave the definition of a noose and explained the significance of lynching, or extrajudicial punishment meted out by a mob, usually by hanging, in black history. "People were lynched just because they were black. Mothers would lose their children. Children would lose their fathers," Miller said.

Miller said the practice, though more widespread in the late 1800s and early 1900s, occurred until the 1960s. "The hanging of a noose is a threat," Miller said.

The group then moved outside of Penland Residence Hall, where on election night an altercation broke out between white students and celebratory black students. Baylor Police were called to the scene of the racially-charged event. Senior Emmanuel Orupabo, one of the revelers, told his account of the event.

The group at least marched silently to Pat Neff Hall. Phipps asked all the members of the newly formed Coalition for Diversity to join him, Anuolam and Miller on the steps.

"After the 'ghetto party' my freshman year, the university was crazy. We had a Dialogue of Differences and nothing happened. A few years later, a Muslim girl was attackd on campus, the Lariat reported it, and nothing happened. In 2008, something is going to happen," Phipps said to applause.

In 2006, members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon held an unofficial party where students dressed in clothes associated with black culture, carried 40-ounce bottles in brown paper bags and some painted their skin to appear darker.

"This is in some people's hearts," Phipps said.

The world is moving to toward inclusiveness, he said, and the behavior of some at Baylor is neither acceptable nor the norm.

"This world is changing fast, and if Baylor doesn't change with it, it's going to be left behind," he said.

He asked everyone assembled to meet someone who doesn't look like themselves.

"This is what it should look like everyday at Baylor," he said, as people milled around to meet new people.

Interim President David Garland and vice president of Student Life Dub Oliver spoke to the group.

"If someone asks if Baylor is a white school, I'd say, 'No, Baylor is a red brick school,'" Garland said.

The speakers all emphasized that there is still work to do to achieve racial unity on campus. "This is going to be a long fight," Phipps said. "We have to be soldiers."

The marchers seemed pleased with the event.

"It brought to light understanding. I was really impressed," Orupabo said.

"This is what I want Baylor to be on the news for ... I am proud of my fellow coalition members, of all the students, teachers, administrators, parents and staff who got up early to show Baylor and the country that the days of ignoring racism are over," said Amy Letteri, senior and president of F.A.C.E.S.

Anuolam said she thought it went well and was glad to see that people of all races showed up.

"Let's hope it doesn't stop here," she said.

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