SOAR guides students through Tulane racial history in “Tours of Truth”

From March 13 to 17, Tulane students led guided tours with a goal of educating tourgoers on Tulane’s history of white supremacy and student activism. These Tours of Truth functioned as a key piece in the “TU: Uprooting Racism” program, which consisted of various events centering on promoting dialogue about institutional racism, particularly on campus.

These tours provided students with the opportunity to understand Tulane’s history from a new perspective, one that seeks to uproot racism by analyzing acts of racism and resistance on campus.

“I gained the knowledge of a history of Tulane that isn’t shared a lot,” freshman Lucy Murray said after taking part in one of the tours.

Each tour began at the Mardi Gras tree on the Gibson Quadrangle of Tulane’s Uptown campus, where guides introduced the university’s origins. The university was officially named Tulane University in 1884 after a donation from Paul Tulane, a young white merchant who wanted to provide education to people like himself — young white men — and only people like himself.

Students were then led to academic buildings, including Gibson, Hebert and Mussafer halls. Tour guides discussed Tulane’s response to the Supreme Court’s support of desegregation in 1954 in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. Years later, two black students were allowed to attend after several court cases, and yet they were still barred from activities outside academics. Tulane officially desegregated in 1961 to maintain its grants rather than for moral reasons.

Toward Freret Street and McAlister Drive, the tours shifted focus to the importance that Greek life has had on campus, including the school’s deference to fraternities over marginalized communities. Guides discussed Greek traditions, including Delta Kappa Epsilon’s “Debutramp” Ball and Kappa Alpha Order’s sandbag wall.

The Debutramp ball included blackface and costumes and acts directly connected with slavery. Though the fraternity partook in acts explicitly rooted in anti-black sentiment, its alumni are still celebrated as part of Tulane’s past.

This and other instances, such as Tulane’s responses to the blackout in solidarity with University of Missouri’s students of color in Nov. 2015 and to KA’s wall in April 2016, indicate the ongoing presence of institutional racism on and around campus.

“It’s important to recognize the past, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. We have to deal with what’s happening now,” Murray said. “We can use that history to impact the present.”

The tours ended at the McAlister Victory Bell, where important events regarding Tulane’s history with racism have been mounted.

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