A Bridge Too Odious

A review of nine hundred college yearbooks from the 1970s and 80s revealed a lot of racist photos. The schools were from the South, North and elsewhere.

I, a white guy, got to thinking about my alma mater, Hope College, located in Holland, MI,
from where I graduated in 1966. The school is affiliated with a Christian denomination, and while that certainly doesn’t make the school immune from racism on campus, I think it would be a bridge too odious for anyone to even consider publishing racist photos in the yearbook during those years and future decades.

I don’t have any yearbooks from my years at Hope, but if I were a betting man (which I am because I have retirement funds in the market), I would bet that there would not be any racist photos, like students in black face or in KKK outfits, etc.

Blacks were a distinct minority at Hope during those years as they still are (unfortunately), but my roommate my senior year was a black guy, and while he surely would be more aware of racism on campus at that time than I, I believe he would contend that the atmosphere on campus was not conducive to racist behavior. Endemic racism and systemic racism, of course, were part of the geography and while most of us had not had our subtle racist attitudes brought to light and addressed in a meaningful way, there was an abhorrence of racist attitudes, stemming, I believe, from a faith orientation.

Ironically, my roommate was asked to join a fellow student, who happened to be white, during spring break to go down south to join the freedom riders. He declined preferring to go home to Schenectady for the break. The white guy made it back to school. I’m not sure the same would have been the case for my roommate and I’m sure such a dire prospect would have been on his mind.

I quibble with my alma mater over some social justice issues about which I think the
administration is tone-deaf, but, to the school’s credit, overt examples of racism
such as the photos would never be tolerated. I credit the atmosphere on campus and
the social justice example of the then college chaplain.

In, the then, little, old, white, conservative town (which is much more demographically
diverse today — about 35% Hispanic and a growing population of blacks and Asians), we
college students with the leadership of the chaplain, marched through town in support
of civil rights and against the war in Viet Nam. My roommate led those marches.

I forever will be indebted to the courage and conviction of the chaplain in helping to
frame my understanding of a Christian witness.

1 thought on “A Bridge Too Odious

  1. I think I could say the same for my alma mater, Bob…….and for the assistant college chaplain who helped me and so many others keep the vision steady and clear.

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