When Emory admitted its first two African American graduates, Verdelle Bellamy and Allie Saxton, to the nursing school in 1962, it was quietly hoped that their arrival would bring the end of segregation for the University and the blossoming of a truly diverse academic community in which blacks, as well as other racial and ethnic minorities, would share full and equal membership.

Each year since, amid routine calls for increased diversity on campus, the number of African American students has risen steadily in step with Emory’s stated goals, and the University now consistently ranks high in national diversity surveys. In 2002, Emory’s enrollment comprised nearly one-quarter minority students and more than 10 percent blacks, the largest percentage of black students among the nation’s twenty-six leading universities, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

Yet many question whether the University has, even now, achieved a fully integrated community. Do the right facts and figures, the right policies, and the right number of African American faces on campus add up to a healthy community, no matter how often those faces are seen next to white ones outside the classroom?

When asked a few years ago whether Emory has become as diverse as it should be, former University Chancellor and visionary Billy E. Frye wondered as much: “There is a question of whether we have increased the numbers without increasing our interaction with one another, that people have come on campus and resegregated,” he said. “There is no question the campus is richer in human as well as fiscal resources, but we must put the question to people: Are you taking advantage of this richness, or are you isolating yourself from it?”

That question has been intensely explored during recent months as a result of a campuswide controversy sparked by a remark made by a faculty member at an otherwise innocuous panel discussion. At an open event planned to commemorate the anthropology department’s twenty-fifth anniversary in September, a chaired professor, who is white, used “the n-word” to describe the way biological anthropologists—her specialty—are regarded within a field dominated by cultural anthropologists. “We’re like the six n-----s in the woodpile,” she said, choosing a colloquial phrase that probably originated when slaves used the underground railroad to escape to the North and were hidden beneath woodpiles.




© 2004 Emory University