Diversity Rocks Week - Faisal Alam”Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims.”
When my professor in feature writing anounced that she was putting together a Diversity Rocks Week at the journalism school I was more than happy. Anyone who has been to Ole Miss knows that there is plenty of diversity, but that people tend to stick to people they already know.
Some of the events were disappointing when it came to people actually showing up; when I looked around the auditorium was not even half full, despite spending time on promoting the happenings on campus.
He continued with asking the audience what words come to mind when they think of Islam.
It was clear that Alam is an experienced speaker; he managed to make a topic such as LGBT Muslims both serious and - with a humble but honest touch - humorous.
Alam finished with telling the audience about his own struggles and how he came up with the idea to start Al-Fatiha.
He said there was a need for an organization aimed towards helping and discussing homosexuality among Muslims. He wanted to break the rule of “don’t ask don’t tell.”
And so Al-Fatiha was created in 1998 and how has 14 chapters in the U.S.
Junior Brooks Turner is a white guy in a black fraternity at Ole Miss.
Yet there’s more to his story than the color clash that some may see. Last fall, Turner went through the intake process of Alpha Phi Alpha, a member institution of the nine historically Black Greek letter organizations in the National Pan-Hellenic Council. He’s not the only person to ever ‘buck the trend’ and pledge his allegiance to a fraternity that typically takes members with a different skin color than his own, but there are not many other individuals on the UM campus willing to take that leap.
According to figures provided by the Dean of Students Office, students in the three Greek councils make up nearly 33 percent of the university’s entire population.
Thus far, Turner’s experience in Greek life has been everything he looked for and more.
“I didn’t really anticipate the bond I would have with the other guys (in my pledge class),” Turner said. “I really do view these guys as brothers.”
However, Turner’s path to becoming an Alpha was a bit different than that of his fraternity brothers. He attended high school at French Camp Academy, a small, Christian boarding school in Kosciusko, Mississippi. The school was a melting pot of diversity and included students from Baltimore, New York, Las Vegas and even the Bahamas.
His perspective, grounded by an unorthodox high school career for Mississippi standards, allowed Turner to see the fraternity for what it signified – an organization promoting positive standards upheld by members.
“I started to pay more attention to (Alphas) on campus, watching the things in which they were involved and the people that were actually in the organization,” Turner said.
Turner wanted to become involved with the fraternity, but he says stereotypes were always in the back of his mind.
“Going in, it was something I was worried about, not only other people on campus, but just society in the South and then even family members,” said Turner. “I wondered how people would take it and so when I first made the decision to try and become a member, that was something I worried about. But by the time we came out to campus, I really wasn’t worried about it at all because I knew the reasons why I did it, I knew the organization and anyone who had a negative outlook on (my membership) was out of ignorance.”
Turner says he did not wish to become a member of Alpha Phi Alpha to bridge any racial divides between white and black students or their respective Greek organizations. His perception of race relations between white and black students at Ole Miss is relatively positive. He does not feel that there is as much tension as some perceive.
However, Turner does see an unwillingness of different student groups to associate with each another; not because of race per se, but instead because individuals are content with not moving outside of their own comfort zones, which may translate into both white and black students still remaining somewhat segregated. According to Turner, the unwillingness to associate may be due more to the region than the university itself.
“There are a lot of small communities in the South,” said Turner. “People don’t really travel that much. They stay in those communities and they spend time with the same people. It may be more out of ignorance. They don’t understand any other types of cultures.”
Greek students at Ole Miss may not have the chance to intermingle with NPHC members due to the population discrepancy. Between 50-100 students make up the NPHC organizations while the majority of Greek students compose the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council organizations.
Coulter Ward, UM Assistant Dean of Students for Student Organizations, says comparing mere figures alone do no tell the whole story for the differences between the councils.
“All three councils have different mentalities in regard to membership. There are different pressures placed on them by their national headquarters, alumni, and the active members,” Ward said.
UM Assistant Professor of History and African-American Studies Dr. Maurice Hobson says there are other differences at play at The University of Mississippi. Hobson maintains that perhaps African-American fraternities and sororities at Ole Miss are behind the curve in comparison to other chapters at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Jackson State, which were created as early as the 1940s. Hobson says most black organizations were not launched at Ole Miss until 1974 due to the later integration of the university, which means the organizations have not had nearly as much time to mature like fellow chapters throughout the South.
While Hobson says the university has recognized its role in racial history of the nation and is more willing to make amends for past injustices than other institutions of higher education in which he has been involved, there’s a still a discrepancy in the way the administration at Ole Miss treats black Greek organizations.
“To say that the university has been good to African-American fraternities and sororities, I can’t say I agree with it,” said Hobson. He claims that the member institutions of the NPHC have attempted to get house on Fraternity Row and have been denied by university administration.
Just as Hobson feels that black fraternities and sororities may have been treated differently on campus, Turner has noticed a difference in the way some peers now treat him after becoming an Alpha.
“When I first came out wearing my letters, they almost ignored it, like they wouldn’t even bring it up and it was obvious that I was in an African-American fraternity,” Turner said. “I mean, many people won’t really talk to me about it, so it’s not that they directly said something, but you can tell a lot about people’s actions.”
Turner’s new affiliation has allowed him to view integration between white and black students from a unique viewpoint, but he certainly would not change his decision to become a member of Alpha Phi Alpha.
“Going through everything I had to become a member really did make me a better person. It made me stronger, more confident person. It made me really dig deep and find what it is I want in life and what kind of man I want to be. I felt like the Alphas did a great job instilling really positive qualities that were going to make me a better person for the rest of my life,” Turner said.
For the entire multimedia project (By Caroline Johansson and Ryan Whittington), visit http://home.olemiss.edu/~cajohans/)
A timeline of Ole Miss history with a race relations angle.
I’m sorry, but how difficult can it be to get it right? Maybe it was as my ethics professor has said several times: the media was rushing to break the news first and messed things up.
No. I don’t buy it. The names are similar, yes, but come on! One is a well-known terrorist and the other the president of the Unites States.
And don’t even get me started on Fox News, who apparently did the mistake over and over again. It would not surprise me if it turns out the news channel put “Obama” there on purpose.
The Digital Divide
Even though more African-Americans use the Internet, the number is still lower than the white population.
The report shows that people of color usually don’t own a desktop computer, but when it comes to laptops Hispanics, whites and African-Americans show the same numbers.
I do believe that things are changing when it comes to technology. The younger generation is hungrier for new things such as iPhones, iPads, Androids, etc. They are more likely to spend money on a smartphone than the older generation.
I believe there is a digital divide in the U.S., but that it’s getting smaller. Now if you look outside of the U.S. there is a big difference. Many countries in Africa don’t have Internet, much less smartphones.
The divide is still there, even here in the U.S., and to me it’s all about money. I often wonder - when watching people with their smartphones and laptops - how many of them are in debt, or had to take a loan to pay for the latest Mac or iPhone.
I was spoiled with Internet at home: we were one of the first families to get it (I was around 13 years old). But I didn’t get a mobile phone until I was 15, and I had to share it with my siblings.
Nowadays I see 6-year olds with iPhones and Androids. So the world has changed and whether or not you own a phone or a laptop may cause distress for parents and kids alike: when “everyone” owns something, if you’re the “only one” not having one.. It’s the way of the world.
So yes, I do believe that more people, from all backgrounds, are owning smartphones and laptops and using the Internet. But I also believe that it has a darker side to it and that there’s still a lot of people living in the “dark ages.”
Is there a digital divide?
Yes, it has just changed some.