Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rhodes College and race issues

When last year in France, I learned I was going to be a student attending Rhodes College, I really did not know what to expect of Rhodes College, Memphis and the United States. I had never been to the United States before so my views of America were pretty innocent. I did not have any particular expectations since I had no idea of the environment I was going to be living in. When I arrived at Rhodes College, I was completely astonished by the buildings, the surroundings and the environment! Rhodes seemed like a sort of dream world to me.

However after a few weeks I started realizing something that bothered me about Rhodes College…

I read before coming here that Memphis was a predominantly black city with a 63% black population, 32% white population and 2% Asian population. I was expecting Rhodes College to have much more black students because of its location in Memphis and the South of the United States. Realizing that Rhodes was a predominantly “white college” in a predominantly black city, I looked up the numbers concerning diversity among students at Rhodes: 80% white students, 6% black students and 4% Asian students. To compare these numbers with another university in Memphis, I looked up the University of Memphis and found that they reflected a little more the demography of Memphis: 56% white students, 38% black students and 3% Asian students.
Seeing that the numbers concerning Rhodes College were quite the opposite of the demography numbers in Memphis, the question is: even if segregation is forbidden by the law, can it still be an issue today? I do not have a straight answer to this question because it is so complex.
The other phenomenon I found disturbing was the people working on campus. If you look closely at the staff (food buildings, the house keeping team, campus safety…) it is noticeable they are for the most part black.

These two observations cannot be a simple coincidence; they are living proof that race problems are still an issue today. Rhodes College is just one out of many examples.
Knowing that the South of the United States was the birthplace of the civil rights movement and that this era was over, I thought that race problems were not an issue anymore… but apparently they are still here…

I do not want to offend anybody in this article; I just want to open a debate on race issues today and their repercussion in the daily life of Americans and in this case, your daily life.
Please post comments and question.


  1. I agree that segregation, especially in schools, is still a major problem in the United States. I think what is also telling of this is if you look at elementary and high schools and the percentages of blacks v. whites. I will say that Rhodes does not take a majority of students from the Memphis area so it is hard to fault it with these demographics. Also the fact that U of Memphis is a public school with mostly Tennessee students and Rhodes is a private institution with students from all around the country and a much higher tuition might lead to the race issues here.

  2. Reid brings up a very good point here. Where I'm from, Midland, Texas, the makeup of the town is about half Hispanic and half white. While the public high schools there reflected the racial makeup of the town my school, which was private, was about the same as Rhodes, mostly white. I feel that this is probably a trend across most of the country. Although their still is the issue of race in some Texas public universities. For example Texas Southern in Houston is a predominately African American school while places such as Texas A&M are still a majority white, despite the somewhat large racial diversity in the area.

  3. I too had the same thoughts as you did Sophie when I got to Rhodes. I went to a public school that was very racially mixed, probably close to 50% of students were not white. Coming to Rhodes, I actually found myself disheartened that I didn't see hardly anyone of a different race than my own. Culture shock I guess you could call it. I also know many people on this campus who find the "extreme diversity" of Rhodes to be unbelievable. Perhaps the race issue for students is that the college is expensive, that it's presbyterian, that it's Southern, who knows.
    As far as the staff goes, I wonder if perhaps Rhodes is perpetuating the servant roles of African Americans (not accusing Rhodes of racism, just a wonder). It does seem weird, and I'm sure it's very different for you to learn about these cultural aspects coming from a different culture of your own.

  4. Speaking from a personal standpoint, Sophie, I completely understand where you are coming from. As an African American female at this institution, I am forced to realize that Rhodes is not nearly as diverse as most students think it is. I think that one of the problems is that prospective students come to Rhodes and see that it lacks diversity and, despite what most students say, is rather "clickish," and this turns them away from applying to such a conservative college. I know that a lot of my friends did not apply for this reason: lack of diversity. Personally, I have experienced several accounts of racism while attending Rhodes. In my freshman International Relations FIRST semester, something went down. We were in class, right after elections, and the professor asked how we felt about Obama being elected as president. A student responded, "I don't think an African American male should be running the white house." You could imagine how I felt as the only African American in the classroom. I was speechless. On another note, yes, Rhodes does employ primarily African American people to take on the servant role. If anyone visits our campus it is so transparent that we are enforcing the "status quo" here that we have been so thoroughly talking about in this class. If we truly want to start invoking change, and transforming mindsets, we could at least start by realizing that there IS a problem that exists within our own community.

  5. I also agree with POISON. When first being told about Rhodes, people say how "diverse" it is and when you get here it really isn't. And on top of that, our multicultural organizations here work hard to promote diversity and participation from our students outside of our culture and it seems they still have a racial mindset. I've heard one student say, "oh we could come to that? i thought it was for black people." Isn't discrimination illegal? Of course. Everything here is so unconsciously segregated that my enjoyment on campus has greatly demised because it's not a community. It's a Utopia behind iron gates where you get in where you fit in and you're more likely to stay there until you graduate. In relation to Memphis, most black students don't know that Rhodes exists. I was at a clothing store and a young employee who was a sophomore in high school asked me what school I go to, and she had no clue that it was here in Memphis. And it's a culture shock when I hang out with students from Memphis and CBU and they are so open and welcoming on their campus and mingled with EVERYONE and here students keep to themselves for the most part. I hear from prospective students all the time about how they don't want to come hear because they see how segregated it is, and how the experience here is not the same. If you're going to come here, it's for academic purposes only, forget the social aspect. I also can't stand how Rhodes says that the campus isn't revolved around greek like when that is in fact false. The vast majority of the college is involved in greek life. In two of my classes that consist of about 8-10 people I am one of two people who are non-greek. It's seems as if if you're not greek and if you can't maneuver through the different cultures here at Rhodes you will not enjoy your time here, because there isn't anything here for you and most of the African American students aren't greek and keep to themselves because it's more or less the only thing you can do because the classes here are so extreme. You don't have much in common with a person from high class family whose family makes upper six figures, and I've been told on numerous occasions that this makes up majority of the Rhodes student population. No one really wants to be around that person that they can't relate to on so many levels.

  6. And in addition to that, I think that since we feel like there is such a lack of us, we have this "stick together" mentality. It sort of a motivation key.

  7. Sophie, I completely agree with you, racial issues are still prevalent roughly 40 years after the civil rights movement concluded. We live with it every day on Rhodes campus. I don’t agree with Reid, however, when he commented the reason for this disparity is mainly Rhodes applicant pull. He alluded that because Rhodes wants a “diverse” student body they pull from student’s across the country and all those students happen to be majority white. Yet, the majority of black students that are chosen are from Memphis. I believe that Rhodes, like Poison mentioned, is working to maintain the ‘status quo’ of its tradition. Rhodes ultimately wants to preserve its elitist persona by only meeting basic diversification standards.

  8. I completely agree with everyone that because of Rhodes' location in Memphis which is majority black the school needs to better represent the city. One of the major factors that hasn't really been brought up yet though is the American concept of the Suburbs. While it is true that Memphis has a large black population, once the populations of the entire metro area of Memphis gets put in tact the ratios do tend to shift. In many cases these suburbs need to be included in overall populations since they are directly linked to the city itself. While Rhodes does need to be more diverse, it is an overall fact that Rhodes is always going to be more white because this country is still majority white, and while Rhodes needs to be diverse racially, in that the ratios do not properly represent our country, it also prides itself on being diverse nationally as far as where people are from in the country as a whole. The white movement of peoples to the suburbs or "White Fight" is a very important and negative aspect of the civil rights movement.

  9. I think Rhodes is working on becoming more diverse, but in more ways than just racially. The school looks into demographics as well. I work in admissions, so I see the prospective students who visit the school every day. The majority of the students who visit are white, so naturally, the majority of the students who apply are white. Therefore each class is majority white. This is something that the college can possibly try and alleviate, and is working on, but diversification is much easier said than done. Especially because there are several school in the area (in Memphis and in Tennessee) that have a larger African American population.

  10. Even if I am supposed to use appropriate language because this is a class blog, I have to say: WOW! I did not expect so many explicit reactions from so many people in the class. To tell you all the truth, I was very afraid to post this subject because I did not know how everyone would react, plus because I came from a different background I did not really know how to express what I wanted to say.

    I also think Rhodes could make a change in the composition of its students, because it has the power to do it. I can also understand why Brittany feels so frustrated about the “diverse” community in Rhodes College and the way the black community in Memphis has the “"stick together" mentality” because there is not much of a choice.
    I also think the Greek organization play a big role in the segregation here. First of all, none of the black Greek organizations have a house on campus… which is a bit weird. Secondly, I noticed there are very little black people in the Greek organizations on campus. This does not help the problem because more than 50% of people on campus are in fraternities or sororities.

    To conclude, the structures and the diversity of people attending Rhodes College do not help the black community feel at home.