Symposium illustrates the impact of the civil rights movement

By Paul Nasella
October 21, 2004

Meghan Fox

A symposium was held last Wednesday, Oct. 13 to discuss the 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education Supreme Court case and its far-reaching impact on education.

The symposium began with the viewing of the film, “The Road to Brown.” As the Widener Center Lecture Hall fell dark, the audience watched on as the film depicted Linda Brown, a fifth-grade African American girl from Topeka, Kan. walking through a railroad yard to cat ch a bus in order to attend her all-black school instead the all-white school just four blocks from her home. With help from the NAACP, the Browns took their case all the way to the Supreme Court where the case was ultimately ruled in their favor in 1954.

“Brown vs. The Board of Education is probably the case that told the African American community that civil rights legislation was possible. I think in many ways Brown is the beginning of the civil rights movement and I think…it had a tremendous impact on changing the face of America,” Margaret McGuinness, the department Chairman of religious studies, said.

After a quick introduction by moderator Shirley Dixon, the coordinator of Diversity Initiatives in the Mission Integration Department, Dr. Dawn Middleton, the department Chairman of the education department, gave her presentation on social isolationism. As she stood at the podium, Middleton told the group of education majors that students have the tendency to isolate themselves in groups and that this problem is most prevalent in cafeterias. As a means of breaking this cycle of isolationism, she made everyone aware of November 16, National Mix-It-Up at Lunch day. It is only this day that people are encouraged to introduce themselves to people they have never met before and get to know them. “I think that it’s true,” special education major Jenna L’Italien, said, “I think the Mix-It-Up program is a great idea because it gets the kids out there to meet other kids they normally wouldn’t.”

Speaking to the audience about the effects Brown vs. The Board of Education has had on women in education as well as the gender bias that continues to occur today was Dr. Phyllis Rumpp, an education professor. She explained to those in attendance that since Brown vs. The Board of Education took place, women have been able to do more and have more available to them than ever before.

“Women now can go into law schools, medical schools, be presidents of universities, be on different sport teams and get the funding, resources, and money for that,” Carol Bennett-Speight, chairman of the social work department, said. “So, I would say out of most of the areas, women have really had the biggest impact and are doing well,” Bennett-Speight said.

Since that fateful day in 1954, Brown vs. The Board of Education has had a deep impact upon many facets of education, especially special education. Dr. Philip Matilsky, a professor in education, said that, “Brown has taken us from exclusion to equal rights.” Since Brown was decided in 1954, many decisions concerning those disabilities such as Hobsen vs. Hansen and the PARC vs. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have come about. Now, those with disabilities have equal protection under the law, due process of the law, as well as the fact that those with disabilities must be allowed an education. “Special education is indebted to Brown,” Matilsky said.

As Bennett-Speight spoke to the audience that afternoon, she really drove home the point that, as educators, those in the crowd could really make a difference. “As educators, you can make a difference, if you choose to, or you can keep the blinders on,” Bennett-Speight said. She also spoke to the group that day as a social justice advocate speaking on behalf social welfare policy. Public education is a social welfare policy in that everyone has the right to an education, she said. Speight also stressed to the soon-to-be-teachers that they really possess the ability to help change things for the better. Dixon put it best when she said, “If you can touch a child’s heart, you can open their mind. Doing that, realizing, you cannot fool a kid; you can’t say, ‘oh, I care about you,’ and pat them on the head. You really have to walk that walk as you talk that talk,” Dixon said.

Posted to the web by Ryan Norris

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Paul Nasella

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