Winning the race: Eliot lectures about prejudice

In an effort to inform the student body and the community about the reality of racism, St. John’s University hosted a workshop on Feb. 8 conducted by Jane Elliot.

The lecture, titled “The Anatomy of Prejudice,” drew a diverse crowd to the University Center, where it was held. It was conducted in an attempt to enlighten those in attendance about discrimination and expose prejudice as, in Elliot’s words, “an irrational class system based upon purely arbitrary factors.”

Elliot, a renowned teacher, lecturer, diversity trainer and recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education, developed the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise, in response to the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“One of my third grade students entered the classroom and said that ‘King was killed yesterday, what happened?'” Eliot said. “I had already decided the night before that I would educate the students on discrimination.”

The exercise itself brands participants as either superior or inferior based exclusively on their eye color, in an effort to reveal to them the experience and pressures of being a minority.

Elliot said that had she known the hardship she and her family would have faced as a result of her initiating this exercise, she would never have done it.

She explained how her children were beaten and spit upon by their peers and their peers’ parents, and how her father closed his store from a loss of business as a result of the exercise.

However, Elliot considers the exercise and her lectures necessities, and is happy that she did begin them.

In the workshop, Elliot did not enact the exercise, but rather discussed it interactively and showed a 28-minute video of the first class she ever executed the exercise with.

She startled the audience, and captured their attention in her opening statement exclaiming herself to be the resident “female dog” for the night, which she explained to be an acronym for “Being In Total Control Honey.”

Although she did not engage in the full exercise, she did affect attendees with her words and presentation. Kimberly Lant, a freshman at St. John’s University, was one of those influenced.

“It was the most moving thing I’ve ever experienced,” Lant said. “Her style reaches out and moves you. She was very interrogating, and it made me uncomfortable at times, but it was worth it.”

Eliot concluded the session by explaining that she never thought she would be giving a lecture on racism in 2006 because of the changing nature of society.

She also said that those who have the power to discriminate also have the power to end discrimination.

“You have the power to make change,” Elliot said. “If you don’t want it done to you, why allow it to happen to someone else? You have to do something about it. To produce change you don’t have to be violent, but you do have to be noisy. Go out and make noise.”