The year was 1958 and SIUC alum Roland Burris was organizing his fraternity chapter’s 25th anniversary celebration.

By Gus Bode

The year was 1958 and SIUC alum Roland Burris was organizing his fraternity chapter’s 25th anniversary celebration.

But Burris ran into trouble when he found that none of the Carbondale hotels and motels would allow black guests.

That prompted Burris and other fraternity leaders to meet with then-SIU President Delyte Morris. After compiling a list of Carbondale businesses that refused to serve black Americans, Burris and other members presented the list to Morris, who took the list to the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce.

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“All of the places except for one integrated under the pressure,” Burris said in a DAILY EGYPTIAN story in 1998. “Dr. Morris was bold in those days.”

Delyte Morris helped SIUC and Carbondale get on the right track in the name of diversity. Riding his bicycle around campus with his wife and listening to students’ concerns, he revolutionized Carbondale and SIUC. Morris worked toward diversity before it was trendy. In fact, he strived for diversity at SIUC when doing so meant going against the grain.

But the work he started is far from over.

Housing on campus continues to be self-segregated between Thompson Point and Brush Towers. The Student Center cafeteria appears as if a line were drawn down the middle. Minority faculty numbers are still not where they should be. Carbondale’s neighborhoods are still separated by invisible railroad tracks. A Human Relations Commission is still being put off by City Council.

The DAILY EGYPTIAN understands that much of this is for comfort. Most people enjoy being around others that are culturally similar to them, with the same likes and dislikes.

But a lesson in diversity is priceless and more importantly, necessary to succeed in the real world. Getting exposed to different cultures will give you new perspectives and an advantage over those who haven’t had the opportunity.

We encourage everyone to step outside of the comfort zone. Learn new things. Expand your horizons and you’ll find appreciation for other cultures. Segregation today isn’t held by law but rather our own unwillingness to go outside of the ordinary.

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In every profile in honor of Black History Month, the individuals profiled in the DAILY EGYPTIAN talk about how diversity at SIUC helped them gain experience when they moved into their careers. They embraced it instead of discouraging it. We hope you do the same.

Let’s keep the spirit and determination of Delyte Morris alive at SIUC. But more importantly, let’s take it a step further and make this campus and city a place where the word “diversity” has a positive ring to it and turn the term into an action.

The world is full of warring groups who simply fight because of stereotypes and discrimination. While Carbondale may seem far from it, the best we can do is make a difference here and hope it spreads.

Dr. Morris would appreciate it, and so will you.

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