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Prominent social justice writer Lawrence Ross hosts dialogue at Ohio State on systemic racism in higher education

Lawrence Ross talks to two students after his conversation on systemic racism at Ohio State Wednesday night. Credit: Maddy Fixler | Lantern reporter

The conversation on institutional racism in higher education continued at Ohio State Wednesday evening with a speaker session featuring Lawrence Ross, author of “Blackballed: The Politics of Black and White Racism on College Campuses.”

Discussion focused on educational institutions that create a hostile environment for black students at predominantly white universities, and perpetuate inequality between the white and few black students at those universities.

For two hours, attendees engaged with Ross in the Performance Hall of the Ohio Union, exploring the intersections between racism and Greek life — the event was hosted by Ohio State’s Panhellenic Association. The audience was comprised almost entirely of female students, the vast majority of which were white.

Ross began his presentation with examples of the toxic fraternal culture at universities, including a racist chant taught to members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Oklahoma that went viral in 2015.

He followed with a series of definitions to clarify for students, then discussed past and present race relations in higher education.

One main point Ross stated firmly during his presentation was that all racism tells students of color they don’t belong.

“For students of color in particular, Greek rows are hostile places,” Ross said.

Ross likened racism to cancer.

“Racism has occurred in terms of systemic racism on college campuses and just because we’re trying to dismantle it does not mean that it goes away,” he said. “It just means that we’re dismantling it. And it pops up in the same way we talk about cancer. You can attack it with chemotherapy but you’re still going to have it popping up. So you have to be constantly vigilant.”

Lipi Agrawal, a second-year in environmental engineering, decided to come after recognizing Ross from his book on traditionally black sororities and fraternities.

“I thought that the things that he talked about –– the micro-aggressions –– were really important because if you aren’t doing anything, you’re part of the problem. And I think that’s a big deal,” Agrawal said.

Brittany Habbart, a third-year in history, asked Ross during the conversation how, as a member of a sorority, she can fight racial injustice.

“It could come back to my organization and who I represent,” she said. “But he reassured me that no matter how I stand up for something, my sisters would be there for me and that when I joined they were there to support me and that no matter what they are also against those injustices.”

Ross ended his presentation with a call to action for the students. He implored them to be anti-racist, and take action against racism in their organizations.

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