Baylor > Lariat Archives > News

Students discuss racism

Nov. 12, 2010

Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer
Dr. Jerry Park, professor of sociology, guest lectures during the NAACP State of the Union seminar Thursday in Kayser Auditorium.

By Rachel Stobaugh

Thursday night Baylor faculty and students engaged in dialogue about what it means to be a minority in the United States and investigated the progression of racism in America.

"I felt comfortable being the only black person [in Delta Tau Delta Fraternity] because it's been that way my whole life," Eagle River, Ala., sophomore James Tunda Owolabi said at the Baylor NAACP meeting Thursday evening.

Owolabi was one of two students interviewed about being of the minority race in fraternities at the State of the Union Address held by Baylor University's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

"I was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood - lots of white people," Owolabi said. "I went to a private school - more white people."

Despite being the only African American member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, Owolabi has a positive outlook on the situation.

Several officials voiced their opinions about racism in today's society. Dr. Jerry Park, assistant professor of sociology, analyzed the ethnic diversity of the media.

"In the 1980s, diversity lauded greater media attention," Park said. "There were more emerging non-white elites: Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey."

While the 1980s changed in the media aspect, Park said, the workforce shifted as well, such as hotels and restaurants. Moving out of the 1980s and into 2010, Park was able to relate the wealth differences between ethnic groups.

"The largest gap in wealth differences is still between blacks and whites," Park said. "In 2002, the median net worth for whites were at $90,000, while blacks' median was at $6,000."

Net worth is made up of assets minus debts possessed by white individuals and families. With "I STAND FOR EQUALITY" printed on the back of every member's NAACP T-shirt, members are attempting to change this gap.

In changing this gap, the separation of ethnicities during Sunday morning worship is surprising to most. Fifty percent of U.S. congregations have members of only one ethnicity, according to Park.

"Our churches are still experiencing the most segregated hour," Park said. "Ninety-three percent of U.S. congregations are homogenous, containing less than 20 percent members of a second racial group."

Churches are not the only community places that the divide is seen. Schools, both private and public, are becoming more segregated, according to Dr. Patricia Tolbert, lecturer of sociology.

"The public cannot use race when assigning students to particular schools," Tolbert said.

Even then, black students and white students tend to end up at different schools because black children and white children are from different economic extremes, Park said.

"The more poverty-stricken schools have lower-paid teachers and lower-educated students," Tolbert said.

Kindergarten through 12-grade schools and universities both struggle with diversity, according to Tolbert, and the NAACP had two minority members of fraternities on Baylor's campus speak in regard to this.

While being the only African American in the fraternity, Owolabi enjoys shedding ethnic light on the other members involved. Owolabi said he lives a happy, carefree life - even when racism is involved.

"If one of my fraternity brothers tells me to stay away from a person because they are a racist, I'm going to go try to make his day," Owolabi said. "I'll learn something about the person because I have a fun time wherever I go."

While Owolabi maintains a positive attitude when racist people approach him, the NAACP is attempting to eliminate racial discrimination completely, according to Houston freshman Katherine Regalado.

Many experts at the lecture believe that even though the United States has its first black president, racism is still very much an issue in America.