On Black Student Associations and White Student Associations

by John E. Farley

The following is a reprint of a letter I sent to the SIUE student newspaper after it published a cartoon asking if it was okay to have a Black Student Association, why wasn't okay to have a White Student Association?

The cartoon on the Black Student Association in the June 8 Alestle both reveals and perpetuates ignorance regarding the reality of race relations on American college campuses today. Although the names might sound similar, the social meaning of a Black Student Association and a White Student Association are totally different, because the social situation of blacks and whites is totally different, both on college campuses and in American life generally. Blacks continue to be a group that is systematically disadvantaged, both in American society and on college campuses. This begins at birth, when a black baby is twice as likely as a white baby to die during the first year of life. It continues through life, with African Americans today being twice as likely to be unemployed and three times as likely to be poor as whites, and half as likely to receive a college degree.

The meaning of a disadvantaged group organizing to get a fair shake and an advantaged group organizing to hang on to its advantages are totally different. Here at SIUE, the faculty remains overwhelmingly white. On predominantly white campuses generally, survey after survey has shown that African American students feel isolated and unwelcome. This is a key reason why black students who enter SIUE and other predominantly white colleges are far less likely than whites to stay. Faced with such problems, it is entirely appropriate for black students to organize, offer one another support, and work to change the often- unfriendly environment of the campuses where they study. White students face no such problems. In fact, being an advantaged group with greater access to college, they enjoy advantages rather than suffering disadvantages because of their race. Therefore, whites have no real need to organize their own association, and when they do, it is often aimed at keeping the racial advantages they enjoy (usually at the expense of other groups, such as blacks). In fact, where white student associations have been formed on campuses, they have often been a front group for racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.

In a cartoon below the one to which I am objecting, the Alestle cartoonist rightly condemned the Ku Klux Klan. It's a shame he can't see the connection.

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