Little Reflects On Race Relations at University By Mike Gluck Kobi Little is a serious man. Nine months after graduation, when many of his peers have settled into graduate school or entry-level jobs, the 23-year-old former political science major is on a hunger strike. Facing a court case against the NAACP concerning the voting rights of youth members in branch elections, Little has reduced his food intake to juice and water since Feb. 12, hoping that his actions will bring an end to the legal dispute. Having spent his years at Hopkins as a student leader, organizing protests and garnering support for issues that concerned the black community, Little is well versed in the rhetoric of debate. Little, a former president of both the Black Student Union and the Hopkins chapter of the NAACP, returned to his alma mater last week to talk about his current endeavors and to criticize race relations at Hopkins. He spoke at the NAACP Founders' Day Program, a Black History Month event sponsored by the university chapter of the NAACP, held in the Garrett Room of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. A self-described activist and organizer, Little serves as president and CEO of Haram-bee Management, a Baltimore-based management and consulting firm that offers diversity training aimed at confronting racism. Little travels the country, speaking at high schools, universities and other institutions about race relations. What has launched him into the public spotlight, however, has been his current campaign to become president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP. The vote has been postponed pending the outcome of a debate concerning the right of youth members who do not pay adult dues to vote in NAACP branch elections. Despite his increasing involvement with the NAACP (he is a life member and serves on an executive committee at the state level), Little remains deeply concerned about race relations at Hopkins. His two-hour speech and question-and-answer session drew applause and nods of encouragement from the several dozen audience members. Little expressed particular disappointment with the university when speaking of the "16 demands," a list of the priorities of the black student body presented to the administration in 1992. "The university basically brushed us off," he said. "They didn't respond to these points." The list included a request for the creation of a black studies department, a required African American studies course for all students and other efforts to improve the quality of life here at Hopkins, said Little. University spokesman Dennis O'Shea said the administration has responded to the 16 demands, and has taken the points very seriously. He cited as examples of administration's willingness to address black students' concerns the successful and ongoing efforts to diversify the faculty and the student bodies as well as the current plans to establish a race and ethnic studies major. Little also spoke of specific events to illustrate the strained relationship between black students and the university administration during his years as a student. One example was the Eis-enhower Library's controversial 1993 Black History Month exhibit, which showcased the achievements of two white abolitionists. After a BSU-led middle-of-the-night sit-in, and the threat of violence, the library administration agreed to remove what the students considered an inappropriate display to celebrate black achievement. Although Little appreciates the opportunities that were available to him as a Hopkins student and acknowledged recent attempts to increase the black student population, he noted that various negative aspects of the university have resulted in a "love-hate relationship" with the school. "A lot of the students were incredibly arrogant and not very intelligent," said Little. He also believes that the university as an institution has failed to serve as a flagship in the advancement of racial equality, both for on-campus and community issues, and should take more efforts to make its resources readily accessible by members of the outside community. Little noted that, given the traditionally slow progress of the university, black students could and should use their status to effect change. "With the experiences that you gain [at Hopkins], you also gain power," he stated. He urged members of the audience to be personally responsible for their actions and to recognize their economic, social and political impact when making decisions concerning housing and other aspects of university life. Following Little's remarks, Hopkins current NAACP president, Michael Straker, said that black students should not act as if they are only at Hopkins to get a degree. "I think when people come to Hopkins, they put blinders on," said Straker, who echoed Little's message. "Black students should make an effort to contribute personal resources to the community while attending Hopkins."
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