Photo by Zibby Pillote

The Pioneer Trail: How far have we come?

Archived article reveals that lc’s current racial dialogue has a longstanding precedent

By Ted Jamison /// Staff Writer

Walking in a single file, the members of the Black Student Union of Lewis & Clark entered the room. The hushed audience of students and faculty gave the speakers their full attention as they began to enumerate the recent acts of racism on campus.”

This seems familiar, right? It should be. After all, it has been only five months since the Black Student Union (BSU) held the community meeting that led to the Manor House sit-in, organized by Walk the Talk.

What if I told you this quote was not from five months ago?

On May 14 of 1968, forty-six years ago, the Pioneer Log ran a story titled, “BSU Present Grievance Statement.” The article described the BSU’s response to what its president at the time, June Glenn, described as “four overt acts of racism” that made it “virtually impossible for the BSU to function as a decision-making body in school policy.”

So what exactly was on the mind of a “Pioneer of color” representing the BSU in 1968? What “overt acts” spurred them to action? For one, the students were understandably concerned with the choice of “Tara” (the Georgian slave plantation from the pages of “Gone With the Wind”) as the theme for the school’s upcoming dance. The BSU condemned the theme as “having implications of a racist colonial institution.”

According the article, the BSU continued by accusing the administration of “intransigence in  giving information about school policies and funds.” The BSU further demanded that a “faculty-administration grievance committee be established” in response to the previously enumerated acts of bias. President Glenn stated, “We feel that all students would benefit from having more minority students on campus.”

What is this? The Black Student Union wanted transparency and support from the administration? They wanted the creation of a sustainable committee to address further concerns? They wanted increased matriculation of students of color? Fifty-four years later, the demands of the BSU are strikingly similar.

“Fifty-four years later, the demands of the BSU are strikingly similar.”

Snapping forward to fall of 2013, the Dec. 5 Pioneer Log article covering the BSU’s community meeting reported that students demanded “transparent bias incident policy that works and is made public.”  Students insisted the administration refrain from employing vague rhetoric in terms of policy and any future communication about “acts of bias” in the LC community. The BSU also demanded the creation of a “student/faculty/staff committee that can oversee the development of policies that allow Lewis & Clark to become a heterogeneous and welcoming space.”

One school located in the folds of a tapering Civil Rights Movement, the other embedded in the age of the allegedly “color-blind” and the politically hyper-correct. Two student bodies, half a century apart, with similar demands. Perhaps it is a reminder that there is still work to be done. BSU or not, whatever “talk” we are “walking” is far from over.

Looking for a safe, accountable, and intentional space to discuss race-based issues specific to the LC campus? Come to the second student-led Race Dialogue in Howard 218 at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday April 29.

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