In the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a call to action to fight "The New Jim Crow," or today's racism, is underway.
A meeting was called Thursday afternoon in Grissom Hall to discuss how racism is overlooked and downplayed in American society. Jolivette Anderson, a graduate student, cultural liaison and program specialist at the Black Cultural Center, spoke about how Martin's death has prompted modern racism to surface and become more visible than ever. Martin's death was compared to the Emmett Till murder in 1955, which is known as the catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement in the '60s.
"I didn't know there was a diversity movement," a member of the audience pointed out.
Anderson disagreed, and said she hopes the killing will get people talking about the inequalities that have crept into American social and political institutions, putting certain groups at a disadvantage.
"This is our push as faculty, staff and community people from this level, to not just continue with diversity, but now, let's call stuff what it really is," she said, "If you want to talk about race, let's talk about race. If you want to talk about gender, let's talk about gender ... and not try to hide behind stuff."
Anderson spoke on how modern racism has become embedded in American political institutions and how the legal system is formulated as "New Jim Crow" laws. This has prompted racism to be a hidden issue that has caused people to be unaware of or overlook the consequences.
"You have to be able to think your way through and contextualize this stuff to be able to understand it," Anderson said.
Bill Mullen, professor of English and American studies, elaborated, in reference to the book, "The New Jim Crow" on how the drug war is part of modern racism. Today, there are more than two million people incarcerated in American prisons, much due to the war on drugs. He said it is part of a pushback in response to the Civil Rights Movement.
Mullen pointed out a statistic which states 25 percent of African American men in their 20s are subject to supervision by the criminal justice system. He claimed not all of those people could be criminals, but due to claims of legalized discrimination, are subject to being profiled as second-class citizens.
Anderson and Mullen agreed the initiation of a new civil rights movement has begun, but acting on it is not easy. To be as effective as possible, members of the audience agreed on the importance of unification between ethnic and minority student groups at Purdue. Anderson agreed groups should focus on communicating with each other versus spending energy on potlucks, something many student organizations currently do as official events.
Keifer May, a sophomore in the College of Liberal Arts, said students on campus are more aware of racism in modern society, citing the recent vandalism in Krannert and a discriminatory letter to the editor that ran in April 4 edition of The Exponent. The letter was about how Boilermaker values are degraded by the presence of LGBT students.
"We've seen a lot of tragedy lately, but that's got a lot of people active. The push now has been stronger than it has been, but I don't think that this is anything new," May said.
Mullen and Anderson hold the belief that a grassroots movement is one way to translate into a national movement. Mullen hoped this call to action will prompt individuals ready to fight for equality, much like the occupy movement quickly gathered large numbers.
At Purdue, Mullen said students are the grassroots, and that ultimate and sustained action is left to them.
"It's time for leadership," Mullen said. "Every major change that's ever happened at American universities has been done by students."