By John Hanley
What do a Film & Media Arts major, Political Communication and International Studies major, Print & Journalism major, and Sociology major have in common?
They have all had to cope with their identity as minorities in America, and recently gathered to hold a panel discussion about recent independent film sensation, Dear White People.
The film was an effort to expose the reality of racism in America and to start a discussion about racial issues. It certainly got people talking, and this past Thursday, several LSU students brought this discussion to our own campus.
“Being at LSU, where, obviously, it’s a predominately white institution, we felt we should drive the discussion,” said Aggi Ashagre, producer of the night’s panel. “Working with student media, we have a huge megaphone in our hands where we can drive these important discussions throughout the campus.”
“Having gone to two different predominately white institutions, I definitely think that it’s worth discussing racial relations on different college campuses,” added Wilborn Nobles III, the moderator of the #DearWhiteTigers discussion. Nobles linked up with Ashagre about a month ago to bring the idea of this discussion to life.
The panel discussion garnered the attention of about 100 Tigers, many of whom sent in tweets for the panelists to discuss. A recurring idea in both the discussion and the film that spawned it is finding one’s identity and one’s place as a minority. LSU has a 22% representation of all minorities on campus, and several of the night’s panelists discussed this reality, along with other issues around campus, that have caused them to question their identities and their place at LSU and in America.
“[Dear White People] made me question what I thought was valuable growing up,” said Zandashe Brown, Film & Media Arts sophomore at LSU. “I didn’t necessarily push away my black identity for most of my life, but I confronted it.”
Brown and panelist Nygel Anderson talked about an experience they have both faced on campus: receiving stares and defensive body language when walking along Sorority Row.
Most panelists agreed that they had experienced or witnessed racial issues in Greek life – panelist Aryanna Prasad recounting a story in which one group of girls debated whether a mixed girl should be accepted into their sorority – and this led into discussion of the inherent structure of Greek life and Student Government at LSU that has limited its availability to minorities.
“The fact that a black man has just been elected Homecoming King should not be being celebrated,” said Anderson in the discussion, mentioning the fact that although a minority Homecoming King and Queen is a good thing, LSU has been around for hundreds of years and should not be praised for something that should already be a reality.
“A lot of people say ‘Our numbers have gone up with minorities’, but there’s still a lot of issues with that,” Prasad told DIG. She reflected the ideas of panelist Sydney Blanchard, who noted that people tend to ignore problems that don’t directly affect them.
The group agreed that those who don’t experience these issues directly still need to understand and care about the conversation of race and racism. They hope that classrooms on campus can have more discussions about race and think that in order to move the conversation forward, people need to listen to minority voices without the intent to argue.
“I think it’s important for people to listen, but I think it’s really important for people to ask questions,” Prasad added, “It’s a humbling experience to admit you’re ignorant about something.”
The panelists agreed that they wanted the conversation to be spread to all racial communities, and that it is important for minority voices to be uplifted and listened to as a sincere representative of the actual experiences of both students at LSU and minorities across the globe.