By Karen Berman
West Campus United, a biracial committee of West Campus students concerned with recent incidents of racial conflict, met last night to discuss concrete proposals to ease the tense atmosphere.
Thirty students, most of them white, and many wearing “Make a Friend” buttons as part of a campaign conceived at their first meeting, related personal feelings of prejudice and attempted to formulate a policy to eliminate violence.
“We can aim for love and understanding and all those high ideals, but first we have to eliminate activities that are socially disruptive,” said Ray Nunn, a graduate assistant.
A racism workshop, planned to begin November 5, was explained to the group by CLA and MET junior Gloria Smith. The format includes a coffee hour followed by discussion groups which will be separated by race.
“You can be more at ease when you’re with all white or all black people. You don’t have to feel intimidated or be afraid to offend,” Smith said.
After the segregated discussions, the whole group will come together and exchange ideas developed within their own groups, she said.
“We have to try to clear up assumptions, come to grips with ourselves and our emotions,” Smith said. “If we can do that, we can try to bring what we learn to our friends and our floors.”
As an immediate action to assure the safety of West Campus residents walking distances alone at night, Director of Sleeper Hall Lucretia Jones proposed an escort service. Some suggested that rumor control centers, already set up in each West Campus dormitory, remain on a continuing basis.
The “Make a Friend” campaign acted to relieve the tension between black and white students thrown together in social situations, most notably the elevator, some of those present said.
“I make an effort to speak to fellow button-wearers. When I see someone wearing the same dumb button, I know at least that his heart is in the same place as mine,” Nunn said. “Anyway, it’s clearly not doing any harm.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Robert W. Tobin issued a statement yesterday dealing with the incidents of violence, which Nunn said could help at least in protecting students from the threat of physical harm.
The statement said any physical fighting “will not be tolerated” and that unless the case is one of self-defense, the student will automatically be suspended until a hearing is held.
Lamont Mackley, resident assistant at Sleeper Hall, stressed that although a quick end to violence was a vital consideration, it did not directly address the underlying problem of racial hatred. “It’s really just putting a bandaid on the situation so we can all live here,” he said.
Jones maintained that an important objective of past and future meetings should be to spread the message of what is accomplished. She suggested that similar meetings be held on individual floors in a casual manner, to attract those who for some reason would not attend the larger meetings.
Several students at the meeting felt that their own prejudices still needed to be worked out. Feelings of intimidation by blacks and ostracism by whites were aired in hopes of increasing understanding between members of the group.
The principal situation in which racial tensions were noted was the elevator, a necessity of life for most West Campus residents. Several black students explained the inclination of some other blacks to intimidate a lone white in the elevator, adding that whites have mentioned that the situation is often reversed.
“Everybody’s talking and laughing, and then you walk in and everyone just freezes and shuts up. No one will even look at you,” said Smith.
She acknowledged that change must come from several areas, and that each race can help to improve the situation.
“The social situation, living situation, and academic situation all have to be looked at,” she said. “We have to work for policy changes. We have to start somewhere.”