April 2, 2001

Minority Groups Pinpoint Stereotypes

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In the aftermath of the bias-related attacks aimed at students last semester, various members of campus racial groups gathered Friday in the Biotechnical building for “Break the Ice,” a discussion of biases across all races.

According to Funa Maduka ’04, president of Cornell’s unofficial chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the purpose of the meeting was to break down and to dissect many of the racial stereotypes that plague Cornell’s campus.

Early in the meeting, Maduka urged those in attendance to “lean into that discomfort [when expressing personal opinions], because that is often when the most change occurs.”

The main exercise of the night involved calling participants into the center of the room based on what race they considered themselves. There they were asked to shout out the stereotypes that are associated with their particular race or ethnicity.

Many, such as Georgia Gruzen ’04, who identified herself as white, found this troubling. Gruzen found that there are often differences within each culture that go unrecognized. “It’s interesting to me how I don’t like to identify with [some] white people,” she said

Getting past stereotypes can often be a sticky situation, said Liz Chimienti ’02. “Stereotypes always seem to be a big deal when you’re getting to know each other,” she said.

“I don’t want to have to be the ambassador for the black race. I just don’t want to have to deal with that all the time,” said Denise Kees ’03 , remembering that one of her white classmates, intrigued by her braids, tugged on her hair.

Some participants blamed popular images in the media for feeding on stereotypes. When in the center of the circle, attendees shouted out these perceptions: the dangerous drug-addicted African-American, the Hispanic illegal alien and the drunk Native-American.

“We make judgments based on images,” said Seyi Sonaiya, a prospective student. “I think that [racial prejudice] won’t end until we are able to control images that are ported and also to display the full range that our cultures encompass.”

During the lecture, the attendees revealed that they thought the media was not the only problem they thought contributed to racial tensions on campus. “This is not just an accident that we all can’t come together. This is all part of a larger power struggle,” Rashida Harrison ’01 said.

“[The majority of white students] don’t feel that it is something that affects them every day,” one freshman said.

Archived article by Stacy Pace