GCJD Tackles Race

GCJD Raises Awareness About Racial Relations and Diversity

With racial tensions increasing across the nation, the Global Center decided to tackle the issue of race head on. GCJD workshop students wrote a series of articles as part of an  effort to raise awareness of race relations and diversity on the campus of Sam Houston State University.

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Talkin' Bout My Generation

By Holland Behn and Hannah Schwartzkopf

Racism. It is a topic that makes the most confident people uncomfortable. On the surface, racism seems to be a thing of the past. Children of all races play together, television shows portray people of all colors living harmoniously together, and college brochures boast about diversity. But do we really live in a world where color does not matter? Has anything changed over the years?

We recently sat down with four individuals from different generations to have a frank discussion about race relations.

Katherine O'Neill is an assistant professor in the General Business Department at SHSU. O'Neill, a Caucasian woman, was born in 1946 and grew up in El Paso, Texas. She says most of the racial prejudice she witnessed as a child targeted Hispanics, not blacks.

But she was not completely immune. In high school, students were still grappling with the effects of desegregation.

"I remember being at a park one night with some kids I was in school with and one of the boys said some remark about a water fountain...be careful about drinking because maybe black people drank from it" she recalls.

O'Neill came of age during the civil rights movement, but believes that because she went to college in Lubbock Texas, she was shielded from what was going on around the nation. But she is still a product of her generation. For example, she would not enter into an interracial relationship.

"If you can manage being a couple at all plus that, you have all my respect," says O'Neill, "I think that it is easier than it use to be...God bless them, I am too cowardly to do that."

She remembers when she was in high school a Mexican classmate asked her out on a date. She says he was a smart boy and a member of student council.

"My mother would not let me go because he was a Mexican," says ONeill, "I was a good girl so I did not go behind her back."

O'Neill says while she would be uncomfortable marrying someone from another race, she understands things have changed and raised her children to focus on character instead of color. "Kids don't necessarily ever swallow anything whole that their parents give them," says O'Neill. Just like O'Neill, Gregory Zapada was also shaped by his childhood experiences.

Zepada , 43, is a student systems specialist in the registrar's office. Born in 1971, he witnessed the Moody Park Riots in north Houston. He was eight years old at the time. "It was just a couple of miles from my house," says Zepada. As a Latino, he adds that the event stands out in his mind as a defining moment.

The Moody Park Riots took place in 1978; a year after a Hispanic man, Joe Campos Torres, was brutally murdered by six white Houston police officers.

Torres was arrested for disorderly conduct at a Houston bar. When the police arrived, they beat him and took him to jail. When they arrived at the jail, the officers were ordered to take Torres to the hospital.

They did not.

Instead, Torres was brought to Buffalo Bayou and pushed into the water.

Torres's body was found two days later.

The sentencing of the police officers and the strained relationship between the predominantly Mexican neighborhood and the police force fueled the riots.

Despite living through that event, Zepada insists he's able to form close relationships with people of all races. "No matter what it is people will have a common bond with somebody regardless of their race or ethnicity," says Zepada, "You're going to have a connection with them, its just finding that connection."

Sarah Perez is the product of one such connection. Perez, 22, is mixed-race.

Born in Houston, Texas in 1993, Perez's mother is Mexican and her father is Native-American and Creole. Perez identifies as African-American.

Perez is a student at SHSU, and says while things may have improved for blacks, there are still problems.

"I have been in situations where I have overheard people say racist comments and sometimes it is my friends that are saying racist comments," says Perez, who says she has friends from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. "I have to just sit back because I do not want to step on any toes or come off rude."

The product of an inter-racial relationship, Perez has seen first hand how true acceptance can lead to love.

"Love. L-O-V-E", recites Ashley Conner. She is 5 and in kindergarten. Ashley told us all about her friends at school and says she loves all of them. There is one friend in particular that she likes to spend most of her time with, a girl named Robin. When she is asked to describe Robin she says that she is very pretty, with black hair and braids. "Robin is my best friend, she is really funny and tells good jokes", Ashley explains. When she is asked if Robin is different in any way Ashley frowns and says "Well, she has to wear glasses and I don't." Robin is black, Ashley white. But Ashley never mentions that. In fact she thinks she and Robin look a lot alike. "She could probably be my sister," she insists.

Will she still be colorblind when she is an adult, or will the experiences of life change her point of view? That probably depends on all of us.

Interracial Dating

By Christain Bermea

Bitticks Wedding PhotoRobin Bittick, an associate Professor of Sociology at Sam Houston State University, was just a child when interracial marriage was declared legal in the United States. Now, 47 years later, he's reaping the benefits of that decision in a very personal way.

Bittick, who is white, is married to an African American woman.

They have been together for more than twenty years and have two children. "Falling in love with her was the best part," Bittick said. It's also often the easiest. While society has certainly come a long way in accepting interracial relationships, Bittick admits not everyone is on board. "There's still stigmas where even people who think they're very liberal," he admits.

According to the latest research (2012), about 15 percent of new marriages in the United States are between spouses of a different race or ethnicity. That's more than double the number in 1980.

A study done by Pew Research found some interesting variances;

Black men tend to marry outside their race more than females. But more Asian women have married outside their race than men. When it comes to Whites and Hispanics, gender doesn't seem to make a difference. In some cases, neither does culture. In fact, some interracial couples say learning about a new culture through the eyes of someone you love is an added bonus. SHSU Political Science major Joaquin Borja, is Asian and French. His girlfriend SHSU Pre-Nursing major Samantha Hart is white.

"You learn from each other," Borja said. "There is nothing cooler than experiencing something new."

Bitticks Family Photo

When it comes to relationships, technology is playing an increasingly important role. That is true when it comes to interracial dating as well. People who might not travel in the same circles are often able to meet online.

According to a report published in the New York Daily News (2013), more than one third of marriages in the United States begin with online dating.

SHSU Mass Communication major Michael Chalfan , who is African American mixed with French and his Hispanic girlfriend Richelle Guerra, a Bilingual Education major , met on Twitter earlier this year. "It just felt right from the beginning and we didn't even think about being of different backgrounds" says Chalfan. Neither did their parents. "My mom thinks it's really cute," Guerra said.

In fact, at least 90 percent of Whites, Asians and Hispanics surveyed in a Gallup poll (2005) said their parents acquiesced to their relationship. But only 59 percent of black students who had interdated said their parents were comfortable with the idea. Social scientists say such skepticism is not unusual, given blacks' bleaker view of the state of U-S race relations. Despite some hiccups, attitudes are clearly changing. The latest pew study shows that 83 percent of the U-S public believes it is okay for a black to be dating a white. That reflects the most dramatic change among the racial attitudes ever tested in Pew polls.

Perhaps love truly is blind

Self Segregation

By Stacy Hood

Staring out across Bearkat Plaza students of all ethnicities gather to socialize, but racial divides are obvious.

Decades after segregation was legally abolished in our country, young people are voluntarily setting themselves apart.

"We fear what we don't know, and if you see a whole group, I think it's human to not want to be the 'ugly duckling'," says SHSU Spanish Professor Dr. David Gerling.

Gerling has been teaching at Sam for the past 26 years and has seen a lot of changes. The student population has certainly grown more diverse.

Last year, SHSU'S student population was 56.5 percent Caucasian, 18.3 percent Hispanic, 18.2 percent African-American, with other ethnicities accounting for 7 percent according to the SHSU Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

But that diversity is not always obvious in classrooms, or at campus social events. One of the reasons may be the wide variety of classes SHSU has to offer. According to a recent American Sociological Review study, if students have more opportunity to choose the classes they take, they tend to register for those classes with friends. That helps to foster cliques rather than break them up.

But there are other, more basic reasons as well. Socializing with members of your own race is often easier.

"You can pick up in the middle of a conversation and say 'me too' because you come from the same background," says SHSU PR major Alyssa Sanchez. "It's not that we do it on purpose it just happens and it's natural."

Freshman nursing major Clarisse Rollins agrees. When she came to SHSU, she gravitated toward other black students.

"We all have something in common, same background and it's something that binds us together," Rollins said. "I can go up to a group that's like me and say 'hey'. But if I go up to a group that isn't, they look at me like, 'what is this black girl doing here' so I don't try."

While self-segregation among minority groups is often talked about, studies show white students have the lowest rates of cross-racial interaction during the college years. The phenomenon is not unique to Universities. A recent Reuters poll showed that 40 percent of adults in the United States do not have a single friend of another race.

SHSU sociology professor Dr. David Constance argues the need to belong is ingrained in most of us at a very early age.

"We are taught who to like and who to hate. What clothes are right and wrong...You were taught as a child who you were supposed to play with and not play with," Constance said.

Self-segregation may be natural, but it can help breed racism. Studies that began in the 1960's prove that prejudice can decrease or be eliminated through direct contact with members from different groups.

What's more, newer research proves that cross-racial interaction spurs learning and growth. Scientists say it introduces people to new perspectives and views that lead to more complex ways of thinking.

It's one of the reasons SHSU and other universities have prioritized recruiting and retaining racially diverse students.

But institutions can only do so much. A change in behavior only occurs when people believe they should change.

"If people have the opportunity to get together it makes a big difference, and college is one of the best places to do it, says Gerling.

Beyond the Melting Pot

By Shikha Sinha

In the wake of Ferguson, much of the discussion about race in the United States has focused on relations between African Americans and whites.

But the U.S. is a cultural mosaic and the country continues to experience a wave of immigration from all over the world. For example, at SHSU, there are a growing number of professors and staff members from India working on campus. I'm focusing on this particular group because I'm part of it. As an immigrant, I daily confront misconceptions.

I've lived in this country for 8 years. Each time I strike a conversation with a Caucasian at a gathering, I'm often told "You speak good English, where are you from"? After explaining that I come from India, the second largest English speaking country in the world, it's inevitable that I will be asked if I'm Muslim.

As much as I feel bad for their poor sense of geography and cultural understanding, I have learned to reply simply "No, I am a Hindu".

Misconceptions are often not hurtful, but discrimination or racial profiling is. I realize national security is important, but frisking non-whites has become too common at airports these days. I was once pulled over at the Seattle Airport for random checking while I was going on a vacation to Utah. Upon searching me thoroughly for about 30 minutes, I was allowed to go, but my co-passengers at the gate eyed me with suspicion making the experience uncomfortable. While the term "random" suggests people of all races will be held for additional screening, I rarely see a Caucasian going through the process. What is the pretext of pulling someone of a different race over somebody who is a Caucasian? Can't Caucasians be a threat to the country's security?

Alok, an Indian Citibank employee, who has lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years, was taken off an airplane right before takeoff for further investigation. He had cleared security and boarding just as every other passenger on the plane did. Upon asking the authorities, he was told that his name popped up on their security system because his name started with the letters Al. Would the officials have pulled an Albert, Allen or Alec because their names started with Al too? Unfortunately, discrimination isn't limited to airports. One of the complaints most Indian/South East Asian professors have is that students often mark them low on evaluations because of their accent. Their major bone of contention is that the same is not applicable to a European Professor who has a strong accent as well. This can be substantiated by going to the Rate my Professors website. Is this not discrimination based on race?

As the U-S population continues to grow more culturally and religiously diverse, I believe it is the social responsibility of every individual to maintain cultural harmony and be more tolerant of that diversity. Only then will the United States become a true "melting pot".