SA forum analyzes prejudices

By Matt Gilbert

A small group of students discussed the causes and possible cures for prejudice Monday night as part of the Student Association’s Campus Crime Prevention Week.

Nearly 20 students gathered at a forum called “Confronting Our Prejudices” in the Heritage Room of the Holmes Student Center. The round table discussion, chaired by SA Campus Welfare Adviser Sylvia Cerrato, featured representatives from several campus groups, including many ethnic organizations.

Cerrato said the purpose of the forum was to give students an opportunity to voice questions and concerns in a relaxed and open atmosphere. “A lot of times people don’t have a chance to speak to people of other races,” she said.

Everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, seemed to agree that “we all have prejudices.” One of the questions asked by Cerrato was how people should deal with them.

Some suggested that part of the problem is that the terminology used to describe ethnic groups is too general, including the term “Caucasian.” SA Sen. Ryan Eggert said, “Caucasian is not just one culture, it’s so many things—Irish, Italian, Polish.”

SA Sens. Lupe Navarro, who also chairs the Latino Cultural Awareness Committee, and David Marquez, who represented El Pueblo Unido, agreed with Eggert and added the Latino community often feels the same way. They said the Latino community is often portrayed as being “all from Mexico” and cited a recent television series as an example of a fumbled attempt to portray Latinos. They said many of the characters on the show who were supposed to be in the same family spoke with dialects from a variety of Latin American countries.

Much attention was given to an issue raised by SA Public Relations Adviser Anna Bicanic, who said her high school experiences revealed a practice of minority groups accusing their members of being “sellouts” when they began associating with persons outside their particular group.

SA Vice President Dave Gonzalez said he experienced such an accusation here at NIU when a group of Latino students approached him at a local restaurant and said, “You never hang around with us any more. You’re a sellout.”

Panelists said they considered a person to be a “sellout” when they started abandoning their own culture to espouse another. Simply hanging around with persons of other races did not make a person a “sellout,” several panelists said.

The group also debated the significance of the terms “minority” and “majority.” Marquez said the term “minority” is a word given to a group of people to make them feel inferior. “It’s a mindset created for you. It is created for all of us.” He also said the term “majority” is misleading, since on a global scale white people are the minority.

Marquez also cautioned against believing what is presented in the media. “Don’t always believe the hype. It’s often a one-sided story,” he said.

Navarro defined a “minority” as a person or group who “doesn’t have power.”

“Majority people have power,” she said. “When you look at people in the government, they’re almost all white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.”

SA Sen. Nolen Hendreson, president of Brothers Reaching Out To Help Enlighten and Rejuvenate Self-consciously (BROTHERS), said the labels “minority” and “Caucasian” are disseminating terms. “When you label something, you disable it,” he added.

Boubacar N’Diaye, vice president of the African Student Association, said he felt considering oneself a “minority” is disabling. He identified a need in African-American people to recapture an identity that’s lost. N’Diaye referred to the era of slavery, when “it was a purposeful policy to lose their identities for (the sake of) control.”

The group discussed the assimilation of Asian-Americans into society, and whether or not they should or could be considered a minority. SA Faculty Adviser Z. Ahmad questioned whether Asian-Americans should want to be considered a minority. Marquez cited an article in the Chicago Tribune that said Asian-Americans are assimilating into society “faster and better” than other groups.