Collegiate Times
December 11, 1987

Minority Voice

Tech Blacks Discuss Opinions on University Ethnic Climate

Black Enrollment: Third of Three Articles
by Lauree Stroud

Virginia Tech blacks are learning to fight both overt and covert racial discrimination through organizations, action and even through administrators. Despite advances, though, many blacks still find several problems with the current societal state.

Need for Multicultural Environment

Blacks at Tech are looking to the future to solve the problems of the present.

"As we move forward, we have to ask ourselves where will Virginia Tech be in the year 2000?" said Calvin Jamison, assistant to the university president. "What kind of university would we like to see and how can we get there?

"We need to create a positive, proactive multicultural environment," he said.

Between 1976 and 1984 black high school graduation increased by 29 percent while the percentage of blacks going on to college declined by 11 percent, Jamison said.

Today, the average age of white Americans is 31, the average age of black Americans is 25 and that of Hispanics is 22.

"This suggests that the minority population is growing rapidly due to birthing trends," Jamison said. "By the year 2000, one out of three high school graduates will be a minority.

"We are doing everyone a disservice if we do not provide a multicultural education reflective of the overall population," he said. "It's not so much a racial issue as a cultural issue. When students get out in the working world, they will be interesting with people of many cultures."

Jamison said the objective should be to reach a critical mass. "In other words, when we have enough black students and faculty to have a comfort zone established, then we will be guaranteed to attract a certain quantity and quality of student each year," he said.

Walter Jones, a senior in industrial engineering and operations research and president of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, said, "We're working hard to plan a successful black history month to enlighten whites to black culture in February, but this awareness should continue throughout the year."

Some black students cite one problem at Tech as being Tech's unwillingness to help blacks adjust.

Beverly McLean, a senior in communications studies, president of the Black Student Alliance and vice president of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, said, "Black students have a few different needs from those of whites. For example, I have to go to Roanoke to find the hair products I need, which are a necessity."

McLean said a stronger black support environment would involve more black faculty.

"Black students often come from a predominantly black environment," she said. "I went to a high school that was 98 percent black. I seldom interacted with whites before I became a Tech student."

A multicultural environment also requires a multi-facated social responsibility.

Kimble Reynolds, a senior in marketing and president of the Class of 1988, said, "When black people go to work, they probably act a little differently than they do at home in order to assimilate into the environment."

However, "school is not looked upon as the same responsibility as work," he said. "I shouldn't be made to fit in. I pay my tuition like every other student."

Reynolds said the university needs to acknowledge the cultural differences in a positive way.

"I went to Norfolk State one weekend and there was a lot of talent in a singing performance and a lot of culture that could only be found at a black university," he said. "Tech needs to bring in activities that highlight that culture."

Despite the views of equality some have, there are still those who hold out their inbred beliefs.

Donna Haskins, president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, said, "Some people here still have misconceptions about blacks and are not willing to accept us. They want us to conform.

"We have a heritage that we are not allowed to express," she said. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

Mario Jones, a freshman transfer student in engineering, said Tech may have been trying to force conformity on him.

"When I came here, I got the feeling Tech wanted me to be absorbed into the atmosphere -- to take off my city shoes and put on boots," he said.

Some students do not seem to be bothered by possible racial tensions.

Kim Edmonds, a freshman in general arts and sciences, said, "I didn't have any trouble making friends. People seem to be very nice.

"It didn't bother me being one of the few blacks in class."

Cultural Center

The general wave of covert racism surrounding the university bothers most blacks. A cultural center is a possible solution to provide blacks with a comfortable atmosphere.

Jones said, "I don't like the atmosphere. The new cultural center (would) improve the environment.

"We've been through a struggle for over a year to get this cultural center where black organizations can have offices and where a museum will help whites to be aware of black issues," he said.

Others are not totally satisfied with the advances made in the way of a cultural center.

Haskins said, "We have been trying to get a black cultural center in the newly remodeled Squires Student Center. We didn't get even half the space we asked for.

Affirmative Action

Most blacks say affirmative action plans are a very necessary part of bringing about equality.

McLean said, "Affirmative action has its place in society. I don't see the end of affirmative action in my lifetime because overt discrimination has only turned into covert discrimination.

"Until attitudes change affirmative action will be needed to police those who can't police themselves," she said.

Jones said affirmative action is the only way to erase some of the barriers of the "good - old - boy system."

"A system of checks and balances is the only way around it," he said.

Complaints about the Collegiate Times

Many blacks say they do not have to look far to find proof of forms of racism. A story in a recent issue of the Collegiate Times which used the word "Negro" instead of "black" provided ample artillery for blacks.

Jones said, "The fact that the word "Negro" was used in a front-page headline right next to an article on racism in last week's paper is indicative of the problem.

"Something like that should not happen," he said.

For McLean, the paper has always been an inept tool to fight racism.

"The Collegiate Times has not given us a break. They edit out anything controversial that we write in our articles and letters.

"I thought the paper was a vehicle for student communication," she said.

Haskins has hopes for the future relationship between the CT and blacks.

"If both sides work harder to understand each other, that's a step to improving relations between us."

However, she was disappointed with the article. "It appears that when everything is getting back on track, something always pushes progress back 20 feet, like that article."

Need for More Administrator Input

While administrators are getting more involved, the improvements are nowhere near what some blacks would like, and feel should be.

Jamison said, "The needs of black faculty, staff and students must be personally internalized and the university institutionalized.

"It will happen, but it will take certain types of individuals to say, "What can I personally do to improve this environment?" he said.

Reynolds said, "Calvin (Jamison) has a genuine interest in the students. More administrators, who want to see progress and who are not just interested in their position, need to be gotten involved.

"White administrators, especially, need to be more visible in their effort," he said.

Jamison said he has a plan to aid a turn-around.

"I have a 10-90 rule. I spend 10 percent of my time thinking about problems and 90 percent on solutions."

Mainstreaming

One of the main problems blacks face is integrating into a white society.

Jones said, "There needs to be more programs to integrate black freshmen into the Tech population."

Reynolds said Tech does well at recruiting blacks, but keeping them enrolled is another story altogether.

"Tech has a hard time keeping blacks here," he said.

"I hadn't experienced racism that much when I applied to Tech, therefore I didn't take it into consideration. But when I arrived, I was hit with culture shock," he said.

"I may be different, but I have learned that I have to sell Kimble Reynolds for Kimble Reynolds," he said.

"If I were an administrator, I would say to the entering black students, "In case you are wondering if you can be successful here, the answer is yes."

"The tone needs to be more positive," he said.

Problems with Black Education

Problems with educating blacks concerns many.

Jones said the black population as a whole does not seem to value education as much as it did in the past.

"(Blacks) opinions have become twisted," he said. "Close to 70 percent of our race are undereducated, and education is the key to making changes in the U.S.

"If we can graduate more blacks from higher education, blacks will be able to help themselves," he said.

Racism/Prejudice

Racism and prejudice are still very evident. Racial slurs are not the common day racist terms any more but have been replaced by force-of-habit racism.

Reynolds said, "When I am one of the few black students in a history class discussing civil rights and segregation, I am expected to be the authority on these black issues."