Black Greek Council president chosen to be "assailant" in women's self defense class

By Erin Leahy

Erin Leahy

Approximately two hundred white sorority women lined the walls of a large multi-purpose room at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) on campus. I was one of them. For an hour, we had been learning about the “Girls Fight Back” program and how to empower ourselves. Now, as we stood surrounding our instructor, it was time to start learning some specific self-defense moves. The instructor called the three-step sequence “badass ballet,” and everyone snickered. She was particularly funny, and I had enjoyed her humor throughout the entire presentation. Before we started, however, she introduced us to her pseudo-assailant of the night: Jordan Barnett – the Black Greek Council president.

Pause: What’s up with that?

There I was, along with two hundred white sorority women, staring down at the only young, athletic black male in the room, and he was labeled the assailant.

Immediately, one thousand questions popped into my head as the instructor’s further verbal instructions drifted away into the back of my mind. Why was the BGC President chosen to be the assailant? Who had decided this? Did he volunteer? Did he care? Was this racial stereotyping? Why wasn’t the Interfraternity Council president the assailant? Was I the only one asking these questions? Was it bad that I was even questioning all this in the first place?

After my two-minute internal brainstorm, I decided to start asking women around me what they thought, and it soon became apparent that everyone had thought or was thinking the same thing. Words such as “awkward,” “weird,” and “racist” were commonly used to describe the situation at present. The only relatively concrete answer I overheard was a group of girls saying the Panhellenic Executive Board had a crush on the guy; however, I still couldn’t shake the fact that I was bothered by it all. I felt like there was some underlying motivation or assumption.

These feelings, however, led me to wonder more about my reaction and less about what was happening in the room around me. Was there actually an underlying motivation for choosing an African American male to be the assailant or was I just overreacting? I wouldn’t have thought twice if the assailant were a Caucasian male. Was I racially profiling in my own head? What led me to believe that choosing an African American male to be the assailant was unfair in the first place?

There has to be a reason all two hundred of those white women reacted the same way; there has to be a reason a girl near me said, “They would choose a black guy to be the assailant.” Where did this attitude develop? The man who stood before us was a leader on campus – not a criminal. He was the leader of the entire black Greek community – a community that established itself to combat racial segregation years ago. And, here he was being racially targeted. Here he was “fitting” a stereotype.

This issue runs much deeper than the text found within a campus crime alert. I believe police always need to include race in a crime alert because I believe no one has the authority to decide whether or not that information is important to the public. If the goal of a crime alert is to narrow the pool of suspects, race is just as important as gender or any other characteristic. People should be provided with as many clues as possible to protect themselves and their community. I’m not saying race should be the focus. The focus needs to be on the whole picture: the gender, the race, the build, the height – everything. I believe nothing should be left out. The more details, the more likely justice will be served.

I believe the problem rests with the media and larger stereotypes of our society. One prime example of poor media representation is the music industry. Many of today’s most popular rappers, such as T.I. and Lil’ Wayne, are portrayed as gangbangers who consistently find themselves in and out of jail. Rap music glorifies the ‘hood, weapons and womanizing. This gangbanger mentality can then transfer itself over into movies and television, where African Americans may be portrayed as violent or vulgar. For example, every time I watch the television show Cops, it seems as though the perpetrator is a minority. It is these mainstream sources that create the mentality I witnessed at the ARC. Racial profiling runs deep within our society.

Therefore, I believe it is vital, as journalists, to be aware of these inequalities and to report fully and fairly. The focus of a crime story should never be just on race or just on gender. As journalists, we must see the bigger picture. That is our job. Through solid journalism, we have the ability to shed light on reality. As the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states, seek truth and report it. We cannot be ignorant to the biased opinions of our society. I learned a lot about myself based on the way I reacted at the ARC, and I encourage everyone to reflect on how they would have reacted as well.