OPINION | Butler has made progress, needs to continue diversity work

Ovid Butler, an abolitionist, founded Butler University in 1855 with the dream that all students could receive an education far removed from society’s prejudices.

Today, Butler isn’t a picture of perfection, but it has come a long way.

The Diversity Center and Black Student Union are just a few of the groups that support and bring out the best in the black population on campus, even though Butler is still only 3.4 percent black.

There is definitely more work to be done.

“It’s like being in the real world,” said junior Brittany Staten, who is black.

This is an accurate description of how Butler is.

Butler is a good environment for black students to experience the reality of being a minority before going into the real world. This is also good for many people who don’t have as much experience working with minorities.

Butler is a slightly below par with today’s society in terms of the silenced awkwardness between races. I still notice double-sided comments or actions made by fellow students. I’m not saying anyone at Butler is racist, but there is a certain level of awkwardness that exists between some people.

“There have been a few experiences where people were uncomfortable with me or they would make off-color remarks,” said Staten.

This is a reality that many students brush under the rug. I’m not talking about a simple joke, but a passive aggressive comment that undermines either me or minorities as a whole.

Some of the things said are out of ignorance and lack of exposure to minorities. I’ve had people cut me out of conversations because I was black and didn’t know anything about “white people stuff.”

Just because I’m black doesn’t mean I’m ignorant or uncultured.

These indirect attacks aren’t something that just started—they have been ongoing since the early days of Butler.

Through the years, Butler has been on a moral roller coaster of how to handle the minority population on campus.

In 1887, Gertrude Mahorney was the first African American to be on record of graduating.

Butler was socially ahead of most other universities in the country. One of the most prestigious sororities, Sigma Gamma Rho, was founded at Butler.

Starting in the mid 1920s Butler’s ethics and moral values went down the drain. Butler President, Robert Aley turned spineless when D.C. Stephenson, a Grand Dragon in Ku Klux Klan became Butler’s newest neighbor.

As president of a university founded on equality, the shock of his silence instead of denouncing segregation came as a shock to many.

Instead of being grouped with their peers in the year book, African Americans were being grouped in the back of each section—separated.

In 1927 Aley instituted a quota only allowing ten black students per year to attend Butler. This quota stayed until 1948. The damage of the gutless acts would linger over everyone for generations.

Up until the 1970s, black students weren’t badgered,  simply ignored and tolerated on campus, said Sally Childs-Helton, special collection and rare books librarian.

Throughout that time period, black students formed several groups to try to find an identity on campus and unify themselves. It was better than many universities at the time but, as a school, Butler had regressed and turned its back on its own history.

The national Civil Rights Movement helped smooth things over for the next generations, but the black community had lost a lot of trust in Butler. In 1978, Butler only had 44 black students attending, compared to 74 in 1926.

A task force was started to try to draw in more minorities and restore the Butler name.

Bobby Fong was the first non-Caucasian to hold the office of president at Butler. He was deeply committed to and appreciated the philosophy and history that Butler was founded on. His race was a huge asset in bringing diversity to the school.

Still a lot of the awkwardness comes from a mix in backgrounds. Some Caucasian students who don’t really experience a mixed bag of races and beliefs until college don’t understand the ignorance in some of the things they say.

People need to be more conscious of what they say and how they act. This applies to more than just minorities but to everyone on campus who is not the same as someone else. Instead of undermining, blatantly and awkwardly avoiding someone, or just being flat out ignorant, think through what you’re about to do or say.

Butler’s founding mission has been a near success, but until a more conscious effort by students is made to act normal and not freak out when faced with someone who has a difference of appearance or beliefs, Ovid Butler’s dream can be closer to a reality.

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