Stepping away from prejudice

Jane Elliott, a former teacher from Iowa, has committed herself to carry out the message of discrimination as long as she can. Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Special Events Center, Elliott will talk about all kinds of discrimination, not just racism.

Elliott is 67 years old and has been in the college circuit for approximately 10 years. But after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Elliott conducted a behavioral exercise with her students.

Elliott taught third grade in Riceville, Iowa, but after King was killed, trying to explain to third graders why a black leader died was hard to do. The class was predominantly white and were part of a Christian community. So, she came up with this exercise to experiment on the children. She picked a physical characteristic, for example she used blue- and brown-eyed children, and attributed negative elements to them. She would pick one group to be superior and one group to be inferior. She then analyzed the results on how the children felt and how their skills were affected by the treatment.

Elliott said in a interview for the Magenta Foundation, that was printed on its Web site, she had no idea how it would work out, and if she had known the enormous impact it had on her students and the community, she would have not done it.

As a result, Elliott’s family was affected.

“Shortly after the exercise, the community did not embrace her thinking,” Mary McDonald, director for Admire Entertainment, the agency that represents Elliott, said. “(The exercise) was the only way Jane felt she could teach her students.”

Elliott’s children were harassed, and her family business in the community was forced to shut down.

Sahar Faghih is the director of fine arts for the Campus Activities Board. She is the student representative who is overseeing the lecture, and she said looks forward to an interesting lecture and thinks that students will get a lot out of it.

“I hope that people will leave this lecture with a deep understanding of what Jane Elliott’s trying to show with her studies,” Faghih said. “That discrimination is, unfortunately, a conditioned and learned response.”

Faghih said there are about 250 seats available, and if there is a big turn out there are seats on the floor as well. Faghih said she will give a brief introduction, and then Elliott will begin her lecture.

“We asked the university to allow three hours for her lecture,” McDonald said. “She shows a video on her conducting the Blue-eyed Brown-eyed study, then give is an insight on her work and then there is always time for questions and answer time.”

McDonald said she hopes the Muslim community of USF will attend the lecture because of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. She said she thinks that Elliott could answer any questions they may have about how they are being treated since the attacks. Faghih said that Elliott says it best.

“You were not born a bigot,” Elliott said.

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