The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Back to the Hilltop

First female African-American student returns to SMU

Generational walls were shattered and color lines were cast aside Tuesday as Program Council’s Black Awareness Committee hosted the first female, African-American student, Anja Sanders, in the lecture “Racism in America: Then and Now.” The event was part of Black Emphasis Month.

When Sanders came to SMU in 1966, there were a total of 10 African-American students. Sanders had five black classmates and four sophomores were also black.

“It was a completely different world,” she said. “I found out that as much as I was ready for the experience, SMU wasn’t ready for us.”

“I walked onto this campus and thought ‘Okay, Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore’.”

Sanders, a native of Marshall, Texas, attended a segregated high school and was not fully prepared for the response from the white community at SMU. On the opposite end, the white community was not very accepting of an integrated lifestyle.

According to Sanders, a fraternity hosted an “Old South Ball” each year that celebrated life under the Confederate Flag.

Sanders and her fellow African-American classmates had a problem with some of the week’s events.

“What we had a problem with was that on the Friday of that week, the frat would secede from the university,” she said. “They also had a slave auction.”

Additionally, Sanders recalls that members of the fraternity dressed in Confederate soldier uniforms.

“We took [this event] as an insult, naturally,” Sanders said. “How dare you make a mockery of our history.”

Concerned with the event, members of the African-American SMU community took their concerns to the administration.

Sanders remembers that the university responded callously.

“They basically shrugged it up,” she said.

Sanders and the other black students were not deterred and took matters into their own hands.

In 1968, at one of the events, on signal, Jerry Levias, a football player at SMU at the time, took out a pocketknife and cut down a banner on the second floor of Umphrey Lee.

“It just beautifully fell to the ground,” Sanders said.

To add to their protests, the students involved in the protests took out miniature Confederate Flags and burned them in the midst of a white crowd.

“In the context, we did a very small thing,” Sanders said. “The message was loud and clear.”

The slave auction ended shortly thereafter, but the black students on campus used this to segue into making bigger changes on campus.

They presented a list of requirements to the university including demands that the children of African-American workers at the school receive an SMU education and an increase in the amount of black professors and students on campus.

“We wanted more than just black athletes being recruited,” Sanders said.

Sanders also recalls how black cafeteria workers, at the time, made $85 every two weeks.

“They would tell us about the mistreatment,” she said.

Eventually, a member of the African-American community presented the list to then president, Willis M. Tate and refused to leave Tate’s offices until the demands of the black students were addressed.

“Thus, the game began,” Sanders said. “We were prepared to stay all night, you know, the hubris of the young.”

Already dealing with threats before their demands, Sanders remembers that “The threats became more severe and harsher.”

One report at the time of the sit-in announced that 33 black militants had overtaken the office of the SMU president.

Sanders said this report was an exaggeration.

“We were militant for SMU,” she said. “We were unarmed, just stubborn. We were only armed with heart and soul.”

After a settlement was reached and the black students agreed to leave the president’s office, Sanders remembers that the whole building was surrounded by law enforcement agencies including sheriffs, Dallas Police, FBI agents and undercover cops.

Sander does not regret the actions that the black students took to institute change.

“I’m happy to say that enrollment has increased, probably not as much as it should have or could have though,” she said.

Although Sanders is proud of her and her peers’ accomplishments, there were repercussions.

While on a job interview with the Dallas Police Department, Sanders was submitted to a polygraph test and heavy interview.

One of the questions Sanders was asked was, “Weren’t you trying to overthrow the country?”

“We were trying to overthrow social inequalities,” Sanders countered.

Sanders said the main motivation behind the African-American students’ action was the future.

Speaking to the audience Sanders said, “We knew at some point you would be here, we were trying to make it smoother.”

After telling of her trials and tribulations, Sanders posed a question to the audience.

“Are you overall pleased with the climate of SMU?” she asked the predominantly African-American audience.

This drew a passionate response from Lauren Taylor. Taylor and African-American, blamed both races for the lack of progression in racial equalities.

“I can see where our counterparts have inflicted a type of mentality in us,” she said. She added that the black community’s “shielding” of the issue is harming the African-American community as a whole.

Taylor pointed to the fact that there are only 604 black students at SMU to prove her point.

“Why are we just now crossing that threshold?”

After Taylor’s passionate response, Sanders saw many of the same qualities that she possesses in Taylor.

“I swear you could be my child,” Sanders said. “Arguing to me is like breathing.”

Sanders addressed Taylor’s response and question by shedding light on why some minorities do not take action sooner.

“It’s easy to say ‘It’s not even worth it,’” she said. “But you can’t.”

“Some people don’t go until it directly affects [them].”Sanders, however, is grateful that some people did take action.

“If there hadn’t been people like that, we’d be on the plantation, picking cotton, working in master’s kitchen, whatever,” she said.

Next, the discussion turned to the issue of homosexuals’ current struggles being compared to the Civil Rights Movement.

“To me, everybody should have rights,” Sanders said. “I’m for human rights — women’s rights, minority rights, homosexual rights, whatever.”

Sanders believes that homosexuality is not a choice.

Taylor disagreed stating that homosexuality is a preference.

“I do not agree with them, just for the simple principle. It’s a preference,” she said. “I eat, sleep, die black. I can’t make it a little bit darker, a little bit lighter, I’m black.”

Next the discussion turned to African-Americans downing each other.

Sanders recalled how another African-American told her, “You ain’t no normal sister.”

“Why because my vocabulary consists of more words than ‘dis,’ ‘dem’ and ‘dose?’” she retorted.

Sanders pointed to her musical tastes as evidence of her cultural variety. She added that she had 2Pac, Simon and Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, the Drifters and Pachibel’s Canon all currently in her car.

“You don’t like me because you don’t understand me,” she said to those who question her tastes. “I have eclectic tastes — sue me.”

Taylor added that when a black person downs another, it is no different than a white person exhibiting racism.

“It’s not doing anything but setting up rots in our own organization, our own race,” she said. “Black people, generally, have a lot to say when a white person puts them down, but not much when a black person does.”

She added that black role models are often hurt by their own race.

“When we get someone in there who’s trying to make a change we smother them with the limelight.”

Sanders then posed a new question to the audience.“Have any of you gotten flack for going to SMU?” she asked.

The answer was a resounding yes.

“People ask me ‘Why didn’t you go to Prairie View? Southern?” Black Awareness Committee Chair Mychael Chinn said. “We as an American culture don’t go for the education and I think that’s something we need to reevaluate.”

Taylor added her thoughts.

“Two of my teachers told me I wouldn’t make it at SMU,” she said. “They told me, ‘They’ll accept you because you’re black.’”

“I had all the odds against me.”

Another student, Dana Matlock, had a sister who graduated from SMU. Matlock said her father must field questions as to how his two daughters got accepted.“Anytime that I say I’m going to SMU, the first reaction is ‘How’d you do that?’” she said.

To conclude the event, members of the Caucasian and African-American communities called for a change at SMU.

“Even though there’s not that many people, it’s enough,” Taylor said. “We’ve sparked something great.”

“This was so much better than I ever imagined it would be,” Chinn, who coordinated the event, said.

Sanders drew of the students’ enthusiasm to close the night.

“Racism affects all of us,” she said. “It takes looking beyond selfishness. It requires looking to the future.”

“Obviously, there are still some issues here at SMU, but with the zeal, energy and enthusiasm you’ve shown tonight, you can change them.”

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