BLACKSBURG - Virginia Tech's black student leaders, who are searching for ways to remedy racial intolerance on campus, were urged Tuesday by a leading civil rights activist to press their demands for curricular change - even if it means doing so without unanimous black support.
"If you wait for every black student to agree before you do something, you're going to be waiting a long time," said Julian Bond, who helped spearhead grass-roots support for civil rights during the 1960s and later became the first black elected to the Georgia General Assembly.
Racism on college campuses in part "stems from intolerance we have heard from high places over the past eight years," he told about 100 students, most of them black, at Smyth Hall.
"Uncompromising resistance to racism made good sense then [in the '60s], and it makes good sense now," he said.
Twice this week black student leaders have presented President James McComas with demands for a black studies program, a mandatory race-relations class for all freshmen and racism workshops for Tech fraternities and sororities.
The demands were prompted by a Tech fraternity's decision this month to send eight pledges to an Ohio college with instructions to get their pictures taken kissing black women.
The fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, was banished from campus for four years on Nov. 17.
At a rally earlier Tuesday - the second since the fraternity incident was made public - black student leaders reiterated and amended their demands. They also requested university funding for an African Awareness Weekend in February and for a book of multicultural writings to be published next spring by the Tech NAACP chapter.
Although billed as a rally, the meeting seemed more a forum for black student leaders to gauge the support their demands had among black students.
Kwame Alexander, head of Tech's Concerned Black Students Committee, asked members of the pre dominantly black crowd of 60 people if they backed the proposals and whether they would show their support by signing a petition.
Alexander called the McComas administration's reaction to the students' demands "the don't-hold-your-breath kind of response."
McComas has promised to meet with black student leaders to discuss their proposals, and Provost Fred Carlisle is scheduled to review the university's core curriculum, which could result in a cultural-diversity class for future students, officials say.
In interviews with reporters and discussions with black student leaders, McComas has said tensions on college campuses demand a broader approach than that offered by black studies courses. He favors a class or series of classes that more broadly address cultural diversity - relations between blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs, Christians and non-Christians.
"I think he has a point that it's not a black and white problem, but we still need a major and minor in black studies," Latnaya Walker, a junior from Blacksburg, said at the rally.
"It seems to me that if the president does want to stress that it's not just a black and white issue, we should be willing to work with other minority groups on campus," she said.
Gordon Rowe, president of the campus NAACP, disagreed, saying, "But the incidents that have occurred here have been between black and white."
In an interview earlier Tuesday, Rowe said he favored educational solutions to campus racism instead of firings, expulsions or racial harassment policies which limit freedom of speech.
However, black student leaders have recommended that the penalty for breaking a still-unwritten university racial harassment policy include mandatory attendance at racism workshops and 100 hours of service to the "offended group."