UCA’s chapter of the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity invited attorney Rasheed Cromwell to speak about race relations, blackface and its history in America on March 30.
This lecture came several months after being suspended from its national chapter when a member wore blackface to a Halloween party.
Sigma Tau Gamma advisor Bill Byrd said the fraternity hosted it because of the blackface incident in the fall.
“All that the Greek board came up with is that they wanted us to host a public event and that could have been anything,” Byrd said. “Working with UCA staff, we felt like a speaker such as Attorney Cromwell, that could relate to the student body and could speak well on this particular topic.”
He said the fraternity worked in conjunction with UCA’s Associate Dean of StudentLifeWendyHolbrook to select the speaker and the topic.
“They sent us a list of possible speakers and possible topics, or what they kind of specialized in, and we selected Attorney Cromwell,” Byrd said. “We as the fraternity and the chapter worked with Attorney Cromwell as far as all the planning of it.”
He said the local chapter and national fraternity paid almost the entire fee, with some assistance from UCA.
During the event, Cromwell began his speech by addressing topics that are usually not openly discussed, such as religion and race.
He asked the audience to discuss with each other where they rst learned about race.
Then he opened the discussion of race and ethnicity by citing that scientists have discovered that the first thing people notice about another person is their skin color.
He then used an interactive exercise with a picture that could have been interpreted as a duck or a bunny.
He used this exercise to reveal to the audience that everyone interprets what they see when looking at a person and their race in a different way.
“What you see has a historic context and that context is what provides this intersectionality between race, ethnicity, power and privilege,” Cromwell said.
He said that power and privilege are two of the factors that in uence what a person sees and how they interpret it.
For an example, he discussed the privilege men have over women in a situation where one is walking in a sketchy part of town alone.
The exercise took the discussion in the direction of gender inequality and men’s privilege over women in history, which then opened the conversation of racial inequality in history.
He discussed the 1915 lm “Birth of a Nation” and the to role it played as propaganda recruit members for the Ku Klux Klan. The lm was a big in uence in America at the time and shed harsh light on African Americans.
“When you talk about blackface, when you talk about these things, it all has a context that derives and originates from negative images that are very offensive and very hurtful,” Cromwell said.
He ended the speech by advising the audience to think critically about what they are exposed to when it comes to the topic of race, and to open up conversations about race when necessary.
Sigma Tau Gamma President Garrett McKamie discussed his thoughts on the speaker.
“It was very relevant,” McKamie said. “He was very knowledgeable of what he was talking about. When it comes to this kind of situation he obviously did his research. He is an attorney, he knows a lot about these kinds of things, and I really liked what he had to say.”
The blackface incident this event was a response to happened in October of 2016 when the fraternity was suspended from its national chapter after sophomore Brock Denton, a member at the time, posted a photo of himself at the fraternity’s Halloween party with the caption “It was a bold night.”
In the photo Denton was standing next to two men with his face covered in black paint while wearing a multicolored sweater.
Photo by Lauren Swaim