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NCC victims witness the persistence of racism.

Byline: Henry Luvert For The Register-Guard

THE YEAR IS 2003 and the month of February, for those unaware, is Black History Month. The designation is a positive result of educating young people about slavery, the accomplishments of African-Americans and continuing issues of racism is to remove the vestiges of this ugly chapter in our country's history. It is especially important in this city and state, because so few people are aware that racism is flourishing here.

Not until the 1950s were people of color allowed to live within the Eugene city limits. Just months ago, a referendum to delete "outdated" racist language in the state Constitution narrowly passed. While many of the outrageous acts of racism (e.g., lynchings) ended in the 1960s, discrimination and harassment of people of color are daily occurrences. Perpetrators accuse victims of "overreacting" or "oversensitivity," while onlookers watch in silence.

The current cloud of suspicion of racism at Northwest Christian College is a case in point.

For the past 18 years, I have been president or vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP. I have worked many cases of discrimination and become an expert on how to fight it. In this capacity, I was asked two years ago to mediate a volatile situation between NCC's basketball coach and three African-American players.

As it turned out, the coach admitted his behavior toward the players was disrespectful and discriminatory and could be construed as racist. With Lane County Commissioner Bobby Green, NCC President James Womack, the coach and the three players present, Womack made four commitments, one of which was to provide the coach all the help he needed to deal with his diversity issues. These promises, written and signed by all involved, were not kept.

Fast forward to today. It's very interesting to listen to people discuss the NCC situation, especially those not involved with the issues as they pertain to the African-American students and how those issues affect them personally. The same disrespectful and discriminatory behavior between the basketball coach and a player of color occurred just a few months ago, and again the president protects the coach's conduct. NCC is spending $12 million on a gymnasium for the Crusaders basketball team but offers no academic coursework on diversity issues and no longer employs any faculty or staff of color. The college provides no celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

How could this occur in a city that celebrates diversity by honoring a slug queen every year, but debates whether to rename a street after a distinguished Nobel Peace Prize winner for his accomplishments in nonviolent advocacy for civil rights? How could this occur on a campus that claims to be Christian and prepares missionaries to travel the globe to spread the word?

It has happened at NCC. It is a form of systemic, institutionalized racism prevalent in our society today - even in a city that prides itself on its liberalism. While virtually invisible to those who practice it, it is clearly perceived by its victims. NCC has even found a student of color or two who attest that they didn't perceive discrimination or harassment during their years at the college - but then, there also was no critical mass of such students to challenge the long-standing status quo of silence.

Now, we learn that President Womack has hired a lawyer to assist NCC in keeping the status quo for the students of color. This would have been a great opportunity for NCC to right a wrong. Instead, it decided to circle the wagons and go into the denial stage of nondevelopment.

What does this say to the students of color who left NCC in despair and disgust in recent years? To those who are holding on for two remaining terms just to graduate in June, but flying under the radar to avoid harassment? To faculty of color? There are none. To members of the NAACP involved for more than two years in incidents of racial animosity, or to the Diversity Action Team which the president is now replacing? Is NCC trying to preserve systemic racism at the expense of people of color?

Locally and nationally, the NAACP is all too familiar with the dodging and weaving of people preserving institutionalized racism. But as an organization, we are also committed to truth, voicing it whenever it may result in meaningful change and resisting racism wherever it surfaces. Make no mistake, we know it exists at NCC and the larger community, and we are mobilizing to act on behalf of every victim of the systems of silence.

Will we, the people of Eugene, remain silent - or will we speak up?

Henry Luvert of Eugene is vice president of the Eugene-Springfield NAACP.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 21, 2003
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