#BlackAtSMU initiates campus discussion

In the wake of an uproar over a theme for a planned fraternity party and a recent racist, anonymous post on a Greek-centric website, students and others packed The Varsity in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Nov. 2 to discuss the current state of race relations at SMU.

Hosted by numerous black student leaders in the SMU community, the 8 p.m. event had to be moved from the Forum, where Student Senate meets, to The Varsity, because the large number of people in attendance posed a fire hazard.

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Students and other community members gather in The Varsity in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Nov. 2.

In the past few weeks, race has been a hot topic of discussion, beginning with Noura Liben. Liben expressed her frustration about a photograph of her and three other women of color being used to advertise the African and Middle Eastern Studies” major on Twitter, which sparked backlash online. None of the women pictured were in the “African and Middle Eastern” areas of study.

The discussion about race and Greek life on campus has been furthered in the last few weeks due to language used on fraternity party Facebook invite pages and anonymous comments on the website Greek Rank.

In response, students created the #BlackAtSMU hashtag and account on Twitter to express their views on race relations and experiences as Black students at SMU.

In light of these events, student leaders organized the campus discussion to discuss ways to fix the campus climate and endorse the equal treatment of all people.

The discussion began with addresses by Student Diversity Chair Gabrielle Faulkner, African American Senator Garrett Fisher, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council President Tien Dang.

“It is unfortunate that we have to be gathered around the issue of racial insensitivity,” Fisher said.

Fisher later clarified that, “a lot of the frustration within the African American community is bigger than just these events.”

NPHC President Tien Dang relayed to the audience the two pieces of legislation currently being worked on in order to improve race education and stop discrimination in Greek life on SMU’s campus.

The first proposed Senate bill recommends that first-years interested in joining Greek organizations be required to attend an interest meeting where all sororities and fraternities are able to talk about their organizations. As a result, all of those planning to participate in recruitment will be informed about every Greek organization on campus, including NPHC, the Interfraternity Council, the Multicultural Greek Council and Panhellenic Council, Dang said.

The second proposed bill encourages all Greek individuals to participate in cultural sensitivity training.

“There has been a lack of communication within the councils,” Dang said. “We are here to educate and communicate with one another.”

D’Marquis Allen, president of the Association of Black Students, also spoke to the crowd.

“We’ve been running away from this for a long time,” he said. “We need to talk about what is real and what is happening with people on both sides of the pack.”

“Things like this have happened in the past, but they have happened for two months or two weeks, but now it is time for us to change the culture of Southern Methodist University,” said Darien Flowers, president of Alpha Phi Alpha, an NPHC fraternity. “We are not trying to hurt the image of SMU, but we are trying to uplift everyone and we are trying to open up this dialogue.”

The discussion opened and audience members were allowed to offer their opinions about the culture at SMU and state their experiences or feelings about the campus climate.

The discussion not only included the topic of race in the Greek setting, but also in the school setting as a whole.

“I walk invisible to you, to white people here, and to even black people here because I am not in Greek life,” speaker Anthony Moss said. “What can we do to incorporate collaboration?”

Others discussed ways to make change last over the years on the SMU campus and what students of all races can do to better understand one another and their differences.

Alexandra Douglass, VP Public Relations for SMU Panhellenic, spoke as well.

“Diversity has been a huge issue that we have been trying to tackle with the Senate and Panhellenic,” Douglass said. “The only way to combat hateful communication is to combat it with more communication, not silence.”

The discussion lasted more than two hours.

“You heard something tonight,” Fisher said in closing. “This is not over. I challenge you to not let this die down.”

Student Body President Carlton Adams plans to present a proposal to help resolve these issues on campus. The proposed legislation would establish an ad hoc committee on inclusion and diversity in Student Senate. Three members of this committee will be student senators.

“The main thing I’m hearing is that no one has seen tangible changes and goals to solve this problem,” Adams said. “The committee will look at code of conduct revisions, the themed party guidelines and further education of Mustangs.”

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