MU's Black Culture Center panel discussion encourages, informs students

Monday, April 12, 2010 | 11:49 p.m. CDT; updated 11:09 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 13, 2010

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included an event that is not part of Alpha Week at MU. Also, not all events in Alpha Week are free.

COLUMBIA — Three black panelists told MU students Monday night that they felt not much had changed at the university when it comes to race relations in the past several decades.

Arnel Monroe, a special education teacher at Hickman High School who attended University of Central Missouri, said he recalled seeing Confederate flags flying when he attended MU football games.

"You'd see rebel flags all over campus," Monroe said.

Raymond Hayes, pastor at St. Luke's United Methodist Church and a MU alumnus, said there were few black faculty members during his time at MU. The Missourian has previously reported that, as of fall 2008, there were 47 black faculty members at MU out of 1,826 total faculty.

Hayes said he was "highly discouraged" from pursuing an engineering degree by his adviser because of his race.

"I didn't get any help. I was geared toward teaching," Hayes said. Hayes had been told in high school by a counselor that he would be "happier if he just went to an all-black school."

Marla Johnson, a nurse in the Columbia Public Schools, graduated from MU in 1974. She described the black community then as "a small community."

MU's Zeta Alpha chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, a black fraternity, organized the panel at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center as a part of Alpha Week. The laid-back atmosphere allowed students to ask questions and have an open conversation with the panelists.

One student asked if anything similar to the cotton ball incident happened during their time in college. On Feb. 26, cotton balls were scattered in front of the Black Culture Center.

Two students, Sean Fitzgerald, 19, and Zachary Tucker, 21 were arrested for the incident on March 2. The two later apologized for their actions; no charges have been filed by the state.

Monroe said there were similar events at Central Missouri during his college years. He said people would "dress up like black people" on Halloween, applying charcoal or ash on their face.

"I don't see a whole lot of change," Hayes said.

Despite the lack of changes, Hayes said he wished more high school students would be encouraged to attend college.

The panelists encouraged the students present to be positive role models for others, especially for Columbia high school students.

Hayes said the greatest influence for high school students has been interaction of MU students in the community.

"It does more than all the teaching I've ever done," Hayes said.

Monroe said "kids get caught up in the hip-hop culture," and don't realize that not everyone will become a rapper.

"When they see college students doing well, and who still listen to the same music — it can make a difference," Monroe said.

Events throughout Alpha Week include the Miss Black & Gold pageant.* A schedule is on Facebook.

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