College students adopt different racial identities

2014-01-17T21:07:00Z 2014-02-06T03:22:12Z College students adopt different racial identitiesCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

GARY | Business students at Indiana University Northwest participated in a race experiment Friday when they had an opportunity to change the color of their skin.

The Race Experience Kiosk is set up at the Moraine Student Center. Steve Dunphy, associate professor of management, assigned his students to try out the kiosk and write an essay on the experience, addressing the differences and similarities among people. He asked them to think about how people would react to them if they were black, Asian, Native American or another race.

"I hope they are able to see some of the real implications," Dunphy said. "What are some of the differences that African-Americans, especially, go through with law enforcement? That's a big issue. If you have just Caucasian police officers, that can be a problem. I would like my Caucasian students especially to see what it would be like if they were to adopt a different race.

"I think it's important for students to have this experiential exercise rather than just a lecture. The question then is, how do people treat you differently and how do you react intelligently?"

Dunphy also encouraged his students to read "Black Like Me," a book written by journalist John Howard Griffin, first published in 1961, about a white man who describes his experiences traveling through the South passing as a black man.

Sarah Fox, 26, of Crown Point, who is half Mexican and half Native American, said she only adopted one race while in the kiosk.

"I tried out the most privileged race, which is white," she said. "It was amazing to watch as it manipulated my features. I had a thinner nose, rosy cheeks. My complexion was more pale than I am used to seeing. It's amazing how it was able to change the image if I had been a white person."

Fox thinks the experiment will help people put into perspective what it's like to be born of a different race.

"People can be narrow-minded, and it will help open their mind when it comes to things like race. Hopefully, this will give someone a glimpse of what it can be like to be of a different race," she said.

"It made me think about the advantages and disadvantages that people have based on race. It made me think about the feelings that I've gone through in my life of feeling left out, or of getting certain things because I am of a certain race."

IUN freshman Ashley Frantz, 18, of Hebron, said she enjoyed the class experiment. 

"My family is white. I'm always around white people," she said. "I don't think I would fit in as a different race, but I wanted to see what I would look like. Mexican was one of the choices. I looked very different. I didn't recognize myself. People are still a little prejudiced and racist in our society. It could cause a lot of problems. It could be difficult to deal with the problems of being another race."

The Race Experience Kiosk will be on campus until Jan. 24.

James Wallace, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs at IUN, said it's just one of many diversity programming activities the university offers. He said Indiana University Northwest is the most diverse campus in the Indiana University system and possibly the most diverse in the state. Of 6,387 at the regional campus, 55 percent are white, 22 percent are black, 17 percent are Latino and 2 percent are Asian.

Wallace said the university's Office of Diversity was restructured in 2011, and it is involved in an ongoing effort to engage the entire campus and community in a conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion.

"As Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'The purpose of education is to get people to think critically, reflectively and intensively,'" Wallace said. "He also said intelligence plus character is the true goal of education."

Wallace said he believes the kiosk experiment will get people to see themselves in a different light, seeing the differences and similarities among people.

"This truly prepares our students for the global economy," Wallace said.

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