Diversity lecturer challenges college to confront race issue

Attendees at Geneseo's annual President's Lecture on Diversity were forced to move to a larger lecture hall in Newton due to the number of people who showed up to hear author Bruce Jacobs speak on Thursday, April 3.

Jacobs, author of Race Manners for the 21st Century, is a social and political analyst who has spoken on NPR, Pacifica Radio and C-SPAN.

At the beginning of his talk, Jacobs told the audience that he was looking to continue the conversation that has been circulating on campus throughout the year as a result of racial tensions that were triggered last semester. On this topic, he accused faculty of dodging media attention and gave suggestions on avoiding that perceived problem in the future.

First, Jacobs noted how the media jumps on sensational aspects of the issue. He said Geneseo should, in the future, call a press conference, rather than risk being accused of avoiding the issue.

"Jump on it!" Jacobs said. "This stuff calls for proactive responses."

He also urged the campus to get in front of problems when they arise by talking about them openly and not being afraid to acknowledge touchy subjects like race. This theme echoed throughout his presentation.

Jacobs suggested that the campus needs to be more diverse, because with a majority of white students and faculty, there are bound to be problems. To help prevent the problems that can arise in this type of environment, Jacobs suggested the college start recruiting from smaller cities like Binghamton and Rochester. He also said that creating and requiring students to take a class on bigotry, racism and diversity should be Geneseo's next step. Jacobs argued that the campus needs to "build in institutional change and action for awareness."

At the end of the presentation, Jacobs stressed two concepts for creating political pressure at the college. He first suggested that students form coalitions that advocate their goals, and reminded students that there is strength in numbers. Second, he encouraged the idea of engaging others.

"Dare to have the conversations you are afraid to have," he said. He offered an example: If a student makes a remark one is uncomfortable with, the person should ask the other why he or she made that particular comment and explain that it was offensive.

In wrapping up his presentation, Jacobs thanked the audience for continuing "to fight the good fight."

Students generally reacted positively to Jacobs' speech.

"He had an interesting take on the subject," said junior Cara Gettys. "I am not sure I expected him to take a solution-oriented angle, but I think that implementing a diversity class is a great idea, perhaps an alternative to Humanities."

Junior Rachel Coleman-Gridley also said she appreciated Jacobs' message.

"I believe that his passion and advice will give the student body and administration the boost of energy we need to make some changes in the curriculum and campus demographics in the upcoming years," she said.