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A lesson in living for NIU community

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Posted: Monday, September 28, 1987 12:00 am

Unity, Racism, Discrimination

If you're going to learn the valuable lesson Unity Through Diversity Week has to offer, these key terms had better be memorized.

They are the essence of this awareness week proclaimed as such by NIU President John LaTourette and DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow.

This week, which most have heard of by now, is meant to make students, faculty and staff conscious of the fact that racism and discrimination still occur, not only on campus but throughout the United States.

A promotional brochure for the awareness week stated, "It is hoped that ‘Unity Through Diversity Week' will, in keeping with the university's mission, influence the campus population to see cultural diversity as an enrichment to human relations rather than an obstacle."

To John Lennon Society member Tom Rainey, who coordinated an anti-racism rally last spring, "the real issue is racism or prejudice on an institutional level."

There are those who think the proclaimed week is a wonderful idea but there may be some bad side effects.

College Republican President Gary Yambor said, "We support it whole-heartedly. The week is good, but with too much attention it (discrimination) keeps going."

Yambor drew an analogy to the cyanide/Tylenol incident. The publicity of tainting the pills spawned similar actions by others.

Since the main purpose of the JLS is to "stop the oppression of peoples," Rainey and the entire JLS are very active in the unity week.

owever, Rainey said, "I worry this week is some kind of smokescreen the administration is using to pacify the students."

Acts which lash out against Blacks, Hispanics and East Indians are not the only deeds being pointed out this week, because racism and discrimination are not equivalent in all cases.

acism, as defined by The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is "a belief that some races are by nature superior to others."

Discrimination includes racism but encompasses much more. One example is discrimination against the disabled.

Limited access to certain buildings as well as discrimination when finding a job has caused handicapped persons to take a stand in this fight.

Discrimination on the basis of sex is another problem facing Americans.

At Monday's anti-racism rally, Student Association Welfare Adviser and JLS member Julie Stege said people still think sexism is funny, but it is apparent everywhere. Advertising and the abuse of women are only two examples, she said.

"Women (staff members at NIU) are paid less at every level," she said.

Jokes about and discriminatory acts toward homosexuals and bisexuals can be found everywhere. Virtually every person out there has seen signs of this before.

Unity Through Diversity Week is one response to these problems and to the recommendations made by LaTourette's Task Force on Discrimination, said Gary Henderson, a graduate assistant in student affairs who helped coordinate the publicity of the awareness week.

The president formulated a year-long action plan to fight discrimination and racism with this awareness week being the kick-off of the campaign.

Jon Dalton, vice president for student affairs, was asked by LaTourette to get the unity week underway. Henderson said it was Dalton's decision as to which groups were invited to the original meeting, but other groups were encouraged to join.

The final collection of groups participating in the awareness week is made of "a number of people jumping in," Henderson said. These are groups who have joined on their own initiative.

There are about 25 university-related and five DeKalb businesses formally participating while other organizations are doing their part in a more informal manner.

The organizations include virtually every type of group on campus—the Black Student Union (BSU), the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS), the JLS, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Gay/Lesbian Union (GLU), Handicapped Services and the Baha'i Club, to name a few.

Everyone seems to be getting in the act. On Thursday, several key university figures will participate in a temporary disabled experience for the non-disabled.

Students can find SA President Jim Fischer getting himself around in a wheelchair while Dalton will be blind for a day.

Events like this are very important in understanding the problems handicapped students and discriminated students face.

The BSU started off the week with a Black Alumni Reception and the Black Choir Open Rehearsal Sunday.

The Campus Activities Board, the offices of the Vice President for Student Affairs and the Provost, and the Holmes Student Center are cooperating with the BSU to present a lecture by NIU faculty member Jacqueline Fleming in Sandburg Auditorium Wednesday night.

One's view of sexual orientation might be enlightened when the GLU tonight presents "Exploring Alternative Lifestyles" at the Holmes Student Center, room 505, from 6 to 8 p.m. GLU Co-president Dan Greenwood said, "We'll be discussing gay lifestyles and taking questions from the audience.

At the Wesley Foundation Sunday night, Lambda Christian Fellowship sponsored a similar kind of talk—about sexual orientation and religion.

The JLS is once again doing its part. Another anti-racism rally was held yesterday in the commons, but Rainey said he did not have the time nor energy to organize a rally like the one last year.

The organization also is sponsoring a speech by Ahmed Obafemi of the New African Peoples Organization at Sandburg Auditorium tonight. He will speak on the roots of racism and mobilizing against racist attacks on campus.

Since discrimination and racism also affect Latin Americans, Mexican organizations are being represented at several events. A Mexican folkloric dance troupe will be entertaining residence hall dwellers today.

One of Friday's highlights will be a conference entitled "Politics of Latinos in Chicago."

OLAS President Rick Munoz, who was in attendance at Monday's rally, said he has encouraged the members of his group to go to at least half of the scheduled events.

A promotion might not be such a bad idea considering the lack of attendance at Sunday's and Monday's events. Hopefully, this was no indication of the amount of conscience-raising that students, faculty and staff think they need.

The Black Alumni Reception held Sunday was attended by about 25 to 30 people. The forum on white racism, also held Sunday, had an audience of four. Of those four, three were there for job-related purposes.

That same day four people showed up for the sexual orientation and religion program.

The rally held yesterday only had about 40 people turnout and a large number of those were JLS members.

There are underlying reasons as to why and how this whole week and year-long battle, against discrimination and for unity, has come about.

Discriminatory and racial slurs occurred last year on three specific occassions, and perhaps even more occurred but went unreported and unpublicized.

The first occurrence took place when three English students published and circulated "Stump" magazine. "Stump" was a collection of racially and sexually explicit writings that resulted in the battery of one of its authors.

The next "event" occurred Feb. 21 when the Rev. Jesse Jackson was speaking at the Student Center. A group of hecklers shouted racial slurs at Jackson from a moving truck outside the center.

Two days later racial fliers appeared on Huskie Buses. The fliers stated, "Niggers Get Out! Go Back To Your Slums! The End of the Rainbow Is In Hell! The Niggers Destiny."

The flier also had on it a swastika with Sigma Chi's letters in the middle. It was later determined the fliers were in no way connected to the fraternity.

In response, a coalition of about 30 student organizations, headed by Rainey, held the anti-racism rally in March.

undreds of students filled the commons March 5 to fight the war against discrimination. Speakers from the various organizations as well as those brought from other parts of the state informed the audience of the prevalence of racism and discrimination.

The students rallied around the stage while journalists, cameramen and photographers from DeKalb, Rockford and Chicago reported the event.

"We will not tolerate racism at Northern Illinois University!" shouted the audience.

The efforts of the participants seems to have been dimmed by the bright light shining on racists because, once again, a racial incident has occurred on campus.

This time the incident did not originate at NIU, but in Georgia.

A racially derogatory newspaper was sent to a few houses on Greek Row, Jon Dalton, vice president for student affairs, and The Northern Star.

Unity Through Diversity Week is just one part of an effort by hundreds of university community groups to put an end to these occurrences.

The real issue is racism or prejudice on an institutional level."

Tom Rainey, John Lennon Society member

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