Jane Elliot speaks to captivated audience

Alyssa Bloechl, Student Life Editor

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“To introduce Jane Elliott, I want to tell you, you won’t like her; then, you’ll hate her,” said Robin Gore, Assistant Director of Residence Life. “But then, you won’t be able to stop thinking about what she has to say.”

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville Department of Residence Life began the “United We Stand” Fall 2012 lecture series with educator Jane Elliott on Sunday, September 23, in Velzy Commons. Elliott introduced herself as not only an educator, but a wife, mother, mother-in-law, ex-mother in-law, grandmother and racist.

“I’m a racist. I wasn’t born a racist,” said Elliott. “I have been conditioned to believe in white superiority, and you have, too.”

Elliott is known for her rather unorthodox method of teaching her third grade students about discrimination with the brown eyes-blue eyes exercise. In April 1968, Elliott went to her classroom in Riceville, Iowa, and told her class to separate into two groups, brown eyes and blue eyes. Elliott’s practices brought her students, her family and herself a lot of hardship in her small all-white community. They were isolated, abused and put down, but Elliott persisted with her message.

“I realized I was a racist the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed,” said Elliot. “I decided the next day to teach my students what it was like to live as a black child in the United States.”

Elliott told them that the blue eyed children were better than the brown eyed ones. They were smarter, cleaner, nicer and had more privileges than those with brown eyes.

“I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly the brown eyed students couldn’t read or do math as well as they had the day before,” said Elliott.

Elliott’s story provoked many different topics that she has become an advocate against. She is a champion of education and wants to fully eliminate ignorance. Topics she covered ranged from abortion to voting rights of the elderly to modern health care to dyslexia.

“I thought she was a really good speaker; she makes me think about a different aspect than what I am normally exposed to,” said Nicole Ruchotzke, senior biology major. “Most are uneducated about these topics, and it makes me wonder what differences there would be if we weren’t conditioned to believe in white power.”

Elliott brought and African-American female and a caucasian male to the stage to do an exercise with the audience. Those seated had to point out their obvious differences. Height, age, gender and skin color were the results. The male student had an advantage in each category. He was tall, young, male and white–all things that give him power in society. The other student was short, young, female and black. All but her age are at her disadvantage in our society.

The audience was shown that it takes bravery for the young African American female to be in our presence every day. The male, he is free. “It shouldn’t take bravery to get up to go to college or listen to lectures that perpetuate white or male supremacy,” said Elliott.

“Americans need to preserve what we are and accept others for who they are,” said Elliott on a closing note.

To learn more about Jane Elliott’s third grade classroom discussion you can watch the American Broadcasting Company’s broadcast called “Eye of the Storm” documenting Elliott’s third year doing the exercise.

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