By Italiana Anderson
Imagine being a student singled out because they did not know the answer to a question in class. Imagine passing a group of male students asking why is it such a big deal that the James Meredith statue is significant. Imagine being a bystander of someone making homosexual slurs about a friend of yours.
For students on Ole Miss campus who need an outlet for their frustrations or simply not knowing how to handle seeing someone treated unfairly, the UM Race Diary Project is where one can let it all out.
Three sociology professors, Dr. Kirk and Willa Johnson and Dr. James Thomas started a project collecting online diaries of students’ everyday racial experiences, with the help of colleagues in the UM Critical Race Studies Group.
“Everyday Racial Experiences of College Students” is the name of the study that has collected about 1500 entries from about 10 classes over the course of two years. This study shows other students, faculty and staff the wrongful acts that often go unnoticed.
After the vandalization of the James Meredith statue this study went into effect. This project will end in May but Dr. Kirk Johnson said he is still eager to hear more stories especially post-election. Students can send in their entries by going to this link, UM Race Diary Project.
“We are still in the process of getting through the diary entries and analyzing data already collected…we are still encouraging classes and students to participate,” Kirk Johnson said.
Kirk Johnson said a team of graduate students and advanced undergraduates are coding the data (converting text to numbers, so the diary entries can be analyzed with software). The authors’ names have been removed to protect students’ confidentiality.
“We are hoping to set up this mechanism where by people have an outlet; their story will be public but their name is not associated with the story…it will let people know that this is a real-life phenomenon,” Kirk Johnson said.
The event that mainly triggered the beginning of the race diaries happened when former Chancellor Dan Jones spoke at the Ford Center during his last year. Dr. Willa Johnson spoke with Jones about racism on campus.
When former Chancellor Dan Jones challenged her by asking, “Is there racism at the university?”, it took her by surprise.
“I think he provoked me, he wanted me to study this because he believed things needed to be changed…he knew that I would do something about it,” Willa Johnson said.
Recently, Dr. Willa Johnson received the IHL Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award because of her efforts to diversify Ole Miss campus.
With this study, these three sociologists make it known that this study is not just for people of color but for all walks of life who have experienced injustice. Every student at the University of Mississippi whether they are African American, Caucasian, or Muslim have all dealt with some type of incivility.
“Racism is an artifact of power, as long as people can be on top and find negative ways to distinguish people, yes there will always be racism,” Willa Johnson.
Dr. Kirk and Willa Johnson believe the Race Diary Project symbolizes a step forward in taking the university to a different place.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg…most of the entries speak to subtle everyday acts of intolerance,” Kirk Johnson said.
Teri Jones, Criminal Justice major of Jackson, MS recalls a time when she felt she a victim to subtle act of intolerance.
“I remember the day like it was yesterday, as I sat in class my professor was asking us if we had any questions about the lecture and I raised my hand to ask a question, he completely dismissed my question and insulted my intelligence. Being that I was the only black student in that class, I felt as if what I had to say did not matter,” Jones said.
The diary entries are completely anonymous and they are not just an outlet for students who have been the victim of racism but from students who see acts of intolerance and do not know what to do about it.
One incident a student recalls was when she and her male friend were having lunch and a (transgender man) walks by their table and he said, “Why would he dress that way?”
This incident shows that the acts of intolerance do not have to be racial they can be discriminating one’s character or gender.
“We’re not talking about seeing things like KKK white hoods, but more quiet everyday comments that escape real notice,” Kirk Johnson said.
Dr. Willa Johnson believe that as a university we have the tools to help people.
“I do this work because I believe people will read it and a difference will be made,” Willa Johnson said.