Jane Elliott burst into the University Center on Monday night with both her luggage and a powerful message in tow.
The internationally-known teacher and recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award came directly from her plane to deliver a free public lecture hosted by UT's Issues Committee.
Elliott became famous after creating the controversial "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise in 1968. The experiment framed her blue-eyed elementary school students as superior to their brown-eyed classmates, offering a real-life lesson on racism and segregation. Although it has drawn both criticism and accolades during the last 30 years, many psychology textbooks and courses include the "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise as an example of prejudice's infiltration into American society.
In her lecture, Elliott exposed American schools for systematically teaching the myth of white superiority by using distorted world maps, following the golden rule and emphasizing only one race — the human race.
Primary educators often use the "melting pot" analogy to describe American diversity. Elliott dismissed this as a method of stirring everything up until it comes out the same and instead described America as a stir-fry. In a stir-fry, you don't blend together the ingredients, she said; each item maintains its identity.
For Joyce Benzi, a sophomore in business analytics, the lecture turned some of her own fundamental notions on their heads.
"The biggest thing I can take away from this it that we all think we're non-discriminatory, but we always have that in the back of our heads," Benzi said. "She was very straightforward and I think that's how it has to be for us to learn, that shock method of learning is effective."
Benzi said that Elliot's spin on the Golden Rule — which states that one should treat others as he himself wishes to be treated — was particularly eye-opening. Elliot replaced it with her own Platinum Rule: treat people as they wish to be treated.
Thomas Carpenter, an undeclared freshman and the social media director for UT's Issues Committee, and who was also Elliot's makeshift chauffeur for the evening, found her take on the melting pot analogy especially interesting.
“What she has said is interesting because I’ve grown up with the whole melting pot thing and she put that down,” he said. “Addressing that inequality has engrained in our heads since we’ve been educated K-12, that’s huge. She was really radical for her time and she still seems radical today.”
For Eboni Gude, sophomore in psychology, the lecture was a more personal experience.
“To me it was very emotional for someone who is white to directly point out the ignorance,” Gude said. “I felt that she was making it clear that everyone being different makes life interesting. (Elliott) hit home on a lot of things and I hope people around me get that it is ignorance. She made it not a white thing or a black thing but a lack of education, the way people have been taught and the way society has made things.”