Speaker arouses diversity, integration discussion

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Speaker arouses diversity, integration discussion

Bobby Shipman

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When Mattie Miller began her first job at an elementary school, she received an unexpected surprise as the parents of her 40 eighth-grade pupils arrived in droves for her first lesson.

The parents stood, due to lack of seating, in the back of the classroom in protest of her presence at Harper Elementary School.

After she asked the principal for more seating for the parents, Miller said the parents stopped showing up.

At lunchtime, Miller’s female coworkers removed themselves from the lunchroom when she entered.

Miller thought to herself, “Well, why are they doing this? I am just sitting down eating.”

She lifted her arms to smell under her pits.

“Everything was OK as far as I knew,” she said.

In 1960, Mattie Miller became the first female African-American teacher at a local school in Evansville, Ind.

Since then Miller accomplished feats such as becoming a school guidance counselor, assistant middle school principal and principal, director of Indiana State Teachers Association, Lilly Endowment Leadership Education Fellow and was honored as a Sagamore of the Wabash.

Miller spoke to an audience at USI about her 50 years of experience with integration and teaching racial bridge building on March 19, in Rice D. Library.

“Not all of my experiences at Harper Elementary schools were bad,” Miller said. “Some of those same parents became my strongest supporters.”

The adversity did not stop there.

Miller said when she tried to check out a book for her class at the public library, she was redirected to a smaller library with far less materials because of her skin color.

Afterwards, she said she began purchasing books instead.

“I didn’t want to experience – being a professional and a teacher – not being able to check a book out of the public library,” she said. “That’s one little thing about education and the community and things that impact on our lives that you wouldn’t think about because you’ve never had that type of thing happen to you.”

Junior pre-social work major Ayanna Campbell said she found this story particularly shocking.

“It made me grateful for my opportunities now, like me being able to go to a library and pick out a book and instead of me having to go to a different location,” she said. “That is a really great blessing to me now.”

Campbell attended Pike High School in Indianapolis, Ind., and said she had a few black teachers but has yet to have any at USI.

“I think it’s kind of sad because I have been here for over five years,” Campbell said. “I have had my core classes, I have had some of my major classes and I still have yet to have run into one of my own.”

Campbell said fellow classmates have told her she was the first black person they have had class with.

She thinks the lack of diversity takes away from people’s education, she said.

“In your college career, if you never encounter diversity, you’re not going to be prepared for the real world,” she said.

Miller said she expected the U.S. to have become fully integrated by now.

“I thought I could change everybody by being me and doing what was right,” Miller said. “It doesn’t work like that.”

During the Q&A session following Miller’s speech, a black USI graduate said she believes integration was a “failed experiment,” and black teachers should stay at predominantly black schools.

The woman said she thinks students get a better education when surrounded by like-minded individuals of their own race.

Miller said no matter one’s color, the most important part of being a teacher is caring about one’s students.

She said one of her favorite quotes is from an unknown author:

“Students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

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