Atlanta's 'Freaknik': Symbol of Racial Divide or Just a Party?

Thousands of young people from across the US will come to Atlanta today for Freaknik - an annual spring-break celebration for black college students. It's sort of Daytona Beach minus the sand and surf.

But many of the black students here look at the coming parties with mixed emotions. Students relish the camaraderie, but some worry it sends the wrong message about black students. Others see the separate celebration - like going to their own colleges - as a symbol of how far the nation must go before it becomes truly integrated.

In part, that's why Harold Ross is now a sophomore at Morehouse College, one of the four all-black colleges in Atlanta.

While he was a freshman at another university in New York, he says campus police followed him and constantly asked for identification, although white students would rarely get stopped. When he complained, the director of student affairs said: " 'Didn't you know this was a white university?' I said I knew it was a university," he says. "After that I felt I needed to be in an environment that felt comforting and came here."

After college, Ross wants to start his own business, not climb the corporate ladder. "If affirmative action gets eliminated ... it will be a lot harder for minorities. I want to be optimistic the best person would be chosen for the job, but I don't believe that will be the case."

Heather Joy Thompson, a Spelman College sophomore, says incidents such as the Texaco discrimination case, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the Rodney King beating signal that much progress is needed to mend race relations.

But at Spelman, "there's not a lot of emphasis on the victim mentality," says the art major. "We study systems of oppression, but we're actively devising plans to shape our futures and create our own destinies."

For example, she says, there are seminars on personal finances, community building, spiritual awareness, business, and sisterhood.

Mr. Ross is concerned that divisions between blacks and whites may be deepening. Rap music doesn't help, he adds, because it "promotes a consciousness of racism but doesn't promote a consciousness of political issues. And rap music is what we hear most."

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