Initial Ethnic Awareness Week event draws minority groups for cultural stereotype discussion

By Bethany Lankin

Despite one small hitch, the first event of Ethnic Awareness Week drew members of several campus minority groups to a forum about cultural stereotypes.

A film entitled “Ethnic Notions” was to be shown Monday, followed by a forum about cultural stereotypes. However, the film was not available and will be shown Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Holmes Student Center’s Illinois Room.

Despite the absence of the film, the forum drew about 30 participants and lasted an hour. Joan Clay, Student Association Minority Affairs adviser, organized the forum, with help from representatives from Hillel, the Organization of Latin American Students, an Asian international student and several members of the Black Student Union.

The panel members responded to stereotypes volunteered by the audience. Asian representative Z Ahmad said he asked the audience for stereotypes because minority groups are often unaware of stereotypes and do not identify with them. “You have those stereotypes—we don’t,” Ahmad said.

OLAS President George Fonseca addressed the stereotype of Hispanics as “wetbacks.” The name originated when illegal immigrants from Mexico swam the Rio Grande River, he said. However, Hispanics are also seen as hard-working, Fonseca said.

Audience members discussed issues concerning African-Americans, such as the use of black English. “All language is relative depending on what situation you’re in,” an audience member said.

Belief in stereotypes and cultural expectations are “a question of how you were brought up,” Ahmad said.

The perception of Asians as exceptionally intelligent is a result of upbringing, he said. What NIU classifies as college-level algebra and lower-level mathematics are “things we learned when we were 11 or 12,” Ahmad said.

After the forum, Hillel representative Joy Schreiber spoke about growing anti-semitism on campus, and told of incidents where Jewish students felt threatened. “I think there’s a big fear on this campus of being Jewish.”

All groups seemed to agree more could be done to make the University a place they could call home. Many of these minority organizations have organized events open to all students, but response has been less than enthusiastic, Clay said.

“You can’t force people to go places they’re not ready for,” she said. “I think that if anyone is curious about another culture, they’ll come out” to special events.