UTM’s Civil Rights Conference continued Tuesday with a presentation entitled “To Be Black and Alive at UTM.”
The presentation was designed to ask the question: What is it like to be black in the US, and what is it like to be black here at UTM?
The presentation started off with a video showing Anti-Racism Activist Jane Elliot confronting her audience. Jasmine Morrison, a senior at UTM, continued with a very touching poetry slam, entitled “The Rules.” It named implicit rules society pushes on black people. Not to wear a hoodie, not to listen to loud Rap music or to always be nice and smile, were a few rules she mentioned. It was a long list, many arguments hitting the nail right on the head and showing that discrimination lies in many things. The poem can be understood as a powerful appeal towards unity.
Perhaps the most powerful part of the whole event was the discussion in which a lot of UTM students stood up and shared their experiences. One of the discussion questions was “Do you feel there´s any racial tension on campus?” This question evoked a lot of audience participation. Many African-American students had stories to share, in which they were treated different – badly and disrespectful – because of their skin color.
At UTM, racial discrimination can be found with members of the staff, fellow students or different clubs or student organizations. Many stories dealt with professors who were heard to doubt the academic success of black students, were surprised when they achieve high test scores and in general give them the feeling that they are valued less than their white classmates. Several students are being excluded from “white” fraternities, some even admitting that it goes against tradition to have black members.
Racism is an issue controlling various aspects of UTM students´ lives. Two male black students asked some of their white classmates, if they would take them home to their families if they were dating. “No,” some girls told them, “my dad will shoot you.”
The presentation put forward the idea that UTM plays an important role in the fight against racism. As host of the 16th Annual UT Martin Civil Rights Conference, UTM educates and connects students and interested people of the whole surrounding area and serves as a big stepping stone in this community.
Looking back at the event, the organizational team thought this was one of the liveliest discussions on that topic in a long time. Students from both ethnical backgrounds showed their willingness and hope to overcome the gap racism created at UTM. This and many other events of that kind show a progression of society towards more unity and friendship, regardless of skin color.
The presentation was moved from the Watkins Auditorium to UC 230, which steadily filled up with people. In the end 49 students swiped their Skyhawk cards, several staff members showed up and the organizational team completed the group. Starting at 6:10 p.m. the whole event lasted over an hour.