Thursday, January 20, 2011

A “Southern” Tradition: Unmasking Issues of Race and Education

Proposing a Series of Conversations on the Past, Present, and Future of Southern University at New Orleans

By Tracie L. Washington, Esq

On Tuesday, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) ordered a study of the feasibility of merging Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) and the University of New Orleans (UNO), two neighboring New Orleans universities that have struggled to fill classrooms and graduate students. According to Jindal, a combined institution might provide stronger services to the students of the universities and of another nearby institution, Delgado Community College, which lacks space for all of its students.

But Governor Jindal did not discuss the issue of race and, further inflaming already tense relations in Louisiana higher education circles was his suggestion that the merged schools could be placed in the University of Louisiana System, which oversees regional state universities. Currently, UNO is part of the Louisiana State University System and SUNO is part of the historically black Southern University System. So in a formerly segregated state, the proposal would not only merge a black college with a predominantly white one, but would remove one of the three campuses of a historically black university system.

Southern system President, Ronald Mason Jr., issued the following statement concerning this proposal: "The Southern University SYSTEM is an important entity in the state of Louisiana, and for the past 52 years SUNO has served as a critical component of the Southern University System." But there is an elephant in the room, and it was never more apparent to me than after listening to the comments by listeners on WWL Talk Radio, and reading the comments after the following post on my Facebook page:

My dad was the first SUNO grad (studies completed summer '66; degree May '67)) to obtain a Ph.D, Dr. Louis X. Washington, Sr. obtained his Ph.D from University of Florida (Gooo Gators!) in Medical Microbiology in 1972. Hell No to UNO merger. SUNO creates African-American scholars!

What was clear, from the statements of the vitriolic racists who continue to question whether Blacks really want to be educated (yes, and I deleted those post and the message in my inbox), and the statements of the ardent sentimentalists who believe it’s ours, it’s Black, we keep it, is there is are fundamental misunderstandings in this community about the history of SUNO, its importance, the cause and nature of its demise (be it by design or benign neglect) and its future, which could and should include a discussion of having UNO join the Southern system.

So let’s have that series of conversations. It will require many individuals, groups, and leaders coming together and planning to make this happen, but it’s necessary. Then folks, let’s create our Plan, i.e., a community vision for the future of SUNO, along with a campaign for insuring its full implementation.


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