Get important education news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox
Fraternity row is still one of the most segregated spaces at predominately white colleges and universities in America.
And this week in New Orleans, the Tulane University chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order showed just how “Greek life” acts as a vestige of discrimination.
Each year, KA constructs a sandbag wall around its off-campus house; this year, the group turned it up a notch, spray-painting its creation with “Trump” and “Make America great again.” Those slogans allude to presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border because “They’re [Mexicans] bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
While KA may have acted within its legal rights — the fraternity has said that the action was only a joke — it certainly lobbed a bomb to Latinos, immigrants and anyone with a modicum of decency.
Members of the Tulane community have taken down KA’s so-called wall. But if Tulane really wants to take down proverbial walls, it will provide more scholarships to undocumented students.
Just as U.S. voters in the next presidential election must decide what kind of country America should become, the students, faculty and staff of Tulane must show what kind of university it wants to become.
Curricula must change, faculty of color must be hired (and promoted) and students must graduate. In the case of KA’s Trump wall, a progressive response would be to provide financial support for undocumented as well as low-income students.
Progressive universities have moved with democracy and changing demographics. Many colleges have lived up to their explicit missions of advancing democracy and have iteratively removed racist, sexist and homophobic symbols, practices and groups that resist change. But it is what administrators add to their institutions that has more influence on the campus racial climate and how democratic it may become.
Related: The first year of teaching can feel like a fraternity hazing
Americans direct so much of our economic and social angst directly at undocumented residents who are working on our homes, constructing our buildings and cleaning our Mardi Gras spoiled hotel rooms. I wish we could see who put up KA’s blue-roof immediately after the storm.
We quietly applaud immigrant and Latino labor, but feel chest pains when we have to live as neighbors.
The people who helped rebuild New Orleans after the storm are here to stay. Immigrant and first generation children are attending public schools. They are future New Orleanians and educational institutions must treat them accordingly.
Related: Column Why ‘The Cotton Picker’s Minstrel Review’ is part of higher ed history
The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe prevents public elementary and secondary schools from considering immigration status when a student is seeking to enroll. Eventually, students should be able to attend a local university. Scholarships provide access to people whom groups like KA are feverishly trying to keep out.
Sending hateful messages toward immigrants and folks we assume to be immigrants is horribly misplaced. The blood, sweat and tears involved in rebuilding New Orleans have forged a brotherhood not limited by citizenship or neighborhood status. Animosity toward immigrants isn’t limited to Trump supporters. Many black and Honduran residents also claim the new faces are taking jobs and reducing wages.
It’s surprising that a city in which gumbo serves as metaphor for its rich racial, ethnic and cultural mixing that people wouldn’t want to throw chiles in the pot. However, it’s often our cultural tastes that are the most intolerant. Demographic shifts pose cultural and linguistic threats to the longstanding racial and ethnic hierarchy.
Since we work and live together, it is important that all people are afforded certain unalienable rights in order to protect a democracy from exploitation, discrimination, and segregation. Undocumented immigrants are especially vulnerable in New Orleans and other cities.
Related: Stop saying ‘college isn’t for everyone’
Tulane has an opportunity to thwart intimidation and provide protection for the very type of student that help the university move away from its history of exclusively accommodating white men.
We shouldn’t be surprised by KA’s antics. The national organization’s connection to Robert E. Lee and Confederate symbolism is well documented.
At one of my alma maters, the University of Maryland, KA performed the Annual Cotton Picker’s Minstrel Review, in blackface. It was a tradition at the college that was prevalent throughout most of the campus’s history up until 1966. Universities like my alma mater and Tulane facilitated racist organizations for decades.
The only university where KA belongs is Trump University.
Tulane must make an inclusive space for sensible New Orleanians.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more columns by Andre Perry.
At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information. We will not consider letters that do not contain a full name and valid email address. You may submit news tips or ideas here without a full name, but not letters.
By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email address. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.