By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief
Best-selling author Lawrence Ross visited the University of Michigan-Dearborn Tuesday, Feb. 9 in part of its Conversation on Race series.
Ross spoke about racism on college campuses to those in attendance at Kochoff Hall. The event was presented by the Office for Student Engagement and the Office of the Chancellor. Ross is on tour for his book Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race, which was published Feb. 2.
Dexter Overall, OSE’s coordinator for diversity programs, and Kristin McDonough, OSE’s coordinator for greek life, were key in organizing the event.
“After looking through a few people, we just decided that, being some of the events that have gone on this past year in higher education (racial tension at the University of Missouri, for example), we just felt that this would be a good speaker to bring,” Overall said.
Ross covered four areas of campus racism during his presentation: segregation and anti-affirmative action, campus symbolism, Interfraternity Council (IFC) fraternities and Panhellenic sororities and racial micro-aggressions.
He hoped attendees received “a new realization about what campus racism is historically and the various aspects of it.”
“Once they actually do that, then what they can be able to do is help join actually join to be anti-racist in terms of not joining in, in terms of doing things and then actually being able to be fluent about speaking to other students about it,” Ross said. “Once you do that, that’s how you break it up. That’s how you break it apart.”
Ross said it is important for college kids to put issues — such as last fall’s racial tensions at Missouri or last spring’s incident with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma — in context and not trivialize them.
Overall said it was important for Ross to visit UM-Dearborn because it related to the purpose of Conversation on Race.
“That’s the purpose of the Conversation on Race. To present new ideas, to challenge the thinking of people in our communities and to educate and uplift,” Overall said. “You had some students where, as he was speaking on some of the things that he presented on, [it] was brand new information to them. You had some individuals that felt relief that someone presented these issues because they were too scared to.
“When you bring a speaker like this on, when you have any type of Conversation on Race, there’s so many learning factors and outcomes that you want to get from it.”
Ross’ presentation was Greek-centered. He is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Several members of UM-Dearborn’s Greek Life organizations were in attendance at the event.
Overall believes Ross’ message “empowers” UM-Dearborn’s Greek Life.
“Before he even came to campus, the OSE got text messages and was told about the reactions of some of our UM-Dearborn Greeks who went [to the Association of Fraternal Leadership and Values conference]. They were even more excited to see him the second time around. And those that didn’t have the chance to see him at the conference have actually brought friends who didn’t get to see him at the conference as well. I was really happy to see a lot of Greeks who just showed up on their own,” Overall said.
Ross said he was “encouraged” that UM-Dearborn’s Greek Life appeared to be “a nice, multicultural and integrated type of Greek Life.”
“Basically my whole thing is, when you’re going into the history of it, you should be able to join whatever organization that you want to join, without any barrier, and you should be able to do it without having any issues,” Ross said.
Overall, focusing on quality over quantity, was pleased with the event.
“As with any event you may hold, you hope for big numbers,” he said. “But then I think there comes a time where it’s all about the quality of the product. I think the speaker was [of] good quality, the content was good quality and I think our students left with the message.”
According to Overall, UM-Dearborn’s next Conversation on Race will be held March 30 and will feature Detroit native April Dae’s one woman show, “I’mma Do Me.”
According to Dae’s website, “I’mma Do Me is a 15-character, one-woman play that examines the heartache and humor of poverty in America. This comedic drama follows one girl on her road to rise from poverty, as she faces her “self-preservation” mentality along the way.”