This past Monday, Lawrence Ross, author of the book “Blackballed,” spoke to the ETSU students about campus racism. Specifically he focused on how everyone, especially fraternities and sororities, have a social responsibility to end racial inequality.

Lawrence Ross
(Photograph contributed / ETSU)

Ross started the lecture with a bang by chanting the infamous racist chant caught on video by the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). The chant talked about how there will never be a black SAE member, and if there was one they would be lynched.

Ross states that there are three things that our society does as a reaction to these types of events.

“First, we individualize the situation,” said Ross.

In this case, the public relation spokesperson for SAE stated that the chant was an isolated incident in one chapter by two students.

“Second, we minimize the situation,” Ross said.

When more members from different chapters of SAE proclaimed that they had heard the same chant in their chapters, the situation was minimized by the spokesperson because, as he stated, it was only five chapters in the same region that knew of this chant.

This leads the public to believe that SAE does not have a racial problem because SAE is all over the country and this incident was regional.

“Finally, we trivialize the situation and doing this dismisses the concerns of people of color,” said Ross. 

Often in Greek life these types of incidents are rationalized; they were drunk, they’re just kids and they were just being dumb.

During the lecture Ross explained that rationalizing this type of behavior is more detrimental to students of color. According to Ross, this is because it sends the message that students of color do not belong on campus.

This is not the type of message we, as a college, want to send to any student. So, to prevent this we, as a college, must become a group of racially aware people.

Whenever someone commits a racist act their intention doesn’t matter because the impact of their actions is detrimental to a large group of people.

Many ETSU students that attended the lecture responded positively to Ross’s message.

“Lawrence Ross brought the reality that racial injustices are a part of the college and Greek life institution,” said student Rylee Thompson.

Noah Nordstrom echoed Thompson’s response and spoke about how the talk impacted him.

“I thought it was provocative in a good way,” said Nordstrom. 

“He talked about some uncomfortable topics that I think are too often glossed over. A lot of times we like to pretend that we don’t have a problem when in fact doing that is allowing the problems to go unaddressed.”