Diversity Toolbox Project
Racist Letter Fact Sheet
In 2006 and 2007 students living in OSU residence halls received form letters describing the biological inferiority of people of African descent. Please use this fact sheet to get a better understanding of the issues surrounding this situation, as well as some background information on the premise behind these letters.
Racist letters at OSU
In January 2006 and again in April 2007, members of the Ohio State residence hall community received letters from an individual in North Dakota. Because the letters were properly addressed to "Occupant" in specific room numbers, the university was obligated to deliver them, per the standards for U.S. Mail delivery. Upon opening the nondescript white envelopes, students found a page-long letter detailing the sender's belief that Blacks are not as intelligent as Whites, and are, consequently, inferior. The sender cites several "studies," which he or she claims support this belief, as well as allegations that successful Blacks are exceptions, that Blacks are more violent than Whites, and that they are unable to maintain peaceful and democratic societies.
Ohio State response
The letters were brought to the attention of residence hall staff by a student office assistant who received one. The residence hall staff was concerned about the negative impact the letters could have on the community and responded promptly with letters of their own to the residents, inviting individuals to speak openly about the incident with their staff. In response to the 2007 letters, the Bias Assessment and Response Team (BART) quickly became involved, ensuring that key offices were also notified, including the University Police, Minority Affairs, the Multicultural Center, Black Student Association, and the Residence Hall Advisory Committee. University staff reached out to students in the residence halls as well as members of student organizations. The Vice President of Student Life, Richard Hollingsworth, released a message to the Ohio State community, in which he recognized the message of the letters as being "both intellectually invalid and morally corrupt." Hollingsworth expressed the balance between dignifying the writer's claims with a response and making certain that the university reaffirmed its values and commitment to an inclusive environment for all students.
What can you do?
In his letter, Richard Hollingsworth offered several options for student involvement. First, take some time to understand the issue from a scholarly level: here on campus, we have an excellent resource in the Kirwan Institute for Race and Ethnicity, which can assist you in this. Learn more about African American and Black culture by utilizing the resources at the Hale Black Cultural Center and the Multicultural Center. You can also participate in annual events such as United Black World Month in February and the African American Heritage Festival at the end of April through early May. Finally, do not be afraid to talk about these issues with others, as it is important to have these types of dialogues.
What can you do if you experience acts of bias or hate?
Report the incident to the Bias Assessment and Response Team (BART) at their website. This team was created to help individuals who have had the unfortunate experience of either witnessing or being the victim of a hate or bias-related incident. The team makes a strong attempt to follow up on all reports within 48 hours.
Racial Difference and the Eugenics Movement
In order to provide a justification for inequality in the treatment of minority racial groups, certain groups sought to create a scientific basis for the societal differences between whites and all other racial groups. In the 1700s and 1800s the Eugenics movements measured physical differences (i.e. skull size) to make claims that White Europeans were racially superior in all ways to other groups in the world. The ultimate goal of this movement was to prove that the "races" were, in fact, different species of humans, distinct and separate.
As science progressed and became more rigorous, biological differences between socially constructed "races" became less credible. The antiquated and hierarchal theories were refuted and modern science put to rest the notion that racial groups are distinct and genetically homogeneous. Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould's seminal text The Mismeasure of Man (1981) focuses on the fallacies of biological determinism, a form of eugenics.
More recently, in the 1980s and 1990s, the notion that differences in standardized test scores between racial/ethnic groups reflect differences in biological intelligence gained some momentum. The most recent example of this in popular culture is the 1994 book The Bell Curve (1994) by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which used a statistically transformed score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to make the claim that there are measurable differences in intelligence between racial groups.
Mainstream social and biological science has refuted these claims by pointing out errors in the statistical procedures in the transformation of the scores as well as using examples from other societies in which racial groups who do well in the United States system of standardized tests find themselves at the bottom of standardized score curves in other national systems. Additionally, it is important to note that differences in socio-economic status, systemic racism, and inequalities in our country's public educational system is generally considered primarily responsible for low testing scores on the part of students of color.
Prepared by the Multicultural Center at The Ohio State University