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Anger, apology over "Condoleezza" quiz
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Bellevue Community College President Jean Floten apologized Wednesday at an emotional open-campus meeting called after students complained about what they said was a racially offensive math question used on a practice test.
Floten praised the courage of the students who brought the question to the college's attention, and promised that the college would redouble its efforts to improve racial and cultural sensitivity on campus, including increasing staff training and creating an ombudsman position.
"We called this meeting, and we had the courage to meet each other and learn from each other and put that learning to use," Floten said.
The hour-and-a-half meeting, attended by more than 150 people, opened an important dialog, but more needs to be done, said Chelsey Richardson, one of the students who brought the issue to college officials.
When she felt her concerns weren't taken seriously, Richardson went to the media and to the Rev. Wayne Perryman, a Mercer Island civil-rights activist. Perryman sent out an e-mail to friends across the country, some of whom belong to conservative and civil-rights groups. Those friends forwarded the e-mail, creating a snowball effect. The college has since received hundreds of e-mails, said Bob Adams, spokesman for BCC.
"The e-mails are primarily angry that this could happen; that's the most common theme," said Adams.
Richardson, 25, said she found the question on a practice test for a math final she was studying for in March. The question read, "Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second." The question went on to ask when the watermelon will hit the ground, based on a formula provided. The question propagates a racial stereotype and denigrates Secretary of State Rice, said Perryman. While Rice's last name wasn't mentioned, the reference was clear, he said.
• Creation of a vice president of Equity and Pluralism position.
• Creation of an Ombudsman position.
• Increased funding for pluralism training and development.
• Tracking data that illuminate places where the college fails to provide excellence to all students.
• A pluralism component in program review and employee evaluations.
• Having professional development days focus on pluralism, especially in the upcoming year, for faculty and staff.
Source: Bellevue Community College
"How many Condoleezzas spell their name that way and how many Condoleezzas are associated with a federal building? It doesn't take much to connect the dotted lines," he said.
Richardson, along with her friend Ilays Aden, met with the chairman of the math department who agreed to remove the question from the department's files. But the women left feeling the school needed to take a deeper look at how a racist stereotype could be inserted into the curriculum.
"It's not just the question; it's beyond the question," Richardson said. "It's the roots of where the question came from."
Perryman, who attended the meeting, said there would be no instant "microwave solutions" to the problem, but he was glad to see the college taking steps forward.
The college declined to release the name of the teacher who wrote the question. Floten said the teacher has apologized and requested cultural-sensitivity training.
The test question was originally written with the name of a comedian, Gallagher, whose signature shtick was to smash a variety of objects, often watermelons. Later, the question was rewritten, and the name was changed to Condoleezza, Floten said.
In an e-mail to students, faculty and staff, Floten said she took "personal ownership that this act of institutional racism could happen despite a collegewide initiative pursued over many years to establish a safe and tolerant place for all to learn."
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Eastside reporter Ashley Bach contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company