Miami forum tries to reach across racial divide

Thursday, November 19, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD - Tales of teachers making insensitive racial comments in classes and white students yelling racial epithets at minorities were among the many horror stories Miami University President James C. Garland heard from students Wednesday night.

Mr. Garland met with more than 50 people to discuss the racial climate there on the Oxford campus.

More than 200 students, faculty and members of the community crowded the Shriver Center's multipurpose room to hear students voice their concerns, frustrations and experiences to the president.

"The students were very committed and passionate and spoke from their hearts tonight," Mr. Garland said after the meeting. "Obviously, I didn't agree with everything they said, but I did agree with some things."

Mr. Garland took responsibility on behalf of the university for not notifying students more quickly about the racial incident that sparked demonstrations last week.

On Oct. 30, a staff member entered the college's Center for Black Culture and Learning and found racially charged messages in text and graphic form. Words on four computer screen-savers were also changed to racist messages.

On Tuesday, Mr. Garland called for this to be a week of healing and unity.

During a week highlighted by candlelight vigils, diversity meetings and rallies, Miami officials are seeking to assure minority students that they were not indifferent to concerns about racial tensions.

"It is important for me to hear our students speak their concerns, frustrations and experiences," Mr. Garland said. "I hope to assure students . . . that we share their abhorrence of hateful words and deeds."

Nathaniel Snow, president of the Black Student Action Association (BSAA), said he thought the forum accomplished the goal of making Mr. Garland aware of the issues.

"He knows the problems now," he said. "Now we want to see some action. We'll give him a few months to respond to some of the ideas presented here tonight. And if some positive things are not done, then we will have to take other measures."

Among some of the ideas suggested by students were diversity training for faculty and mandatory diversity classes for students. After the forum, more than 100 students led by Mr. Garland gathered behind the Shriver Center for a unity rally. Students brandishing "Stop the Hate" signs joined hands and sang "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand."

"We need to continue to have these types of events two or three times a year," said Aziza Nicholson, vice president of the BSAA. "We have to make a commitment to press on . . . to keep pressing the administration and the president, so that we can get some of our goals accomplished."

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