O’Bannon Institute panel: Equality still an elusive reality

By Rachel Bunn 331-4357 | rbunn@heraldt.com
April 13, 2013

Equality is an elusive concept, and though progress has been made over the past 60 years to improve access to all people, there are still many ways in which society fails, according to panelists at the O’Bannon Institute for Community Service.

Panelists, representing different sections of the population, discussed the past, present and future of equality Friday at Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington. WISH-TV’s lead anchor Debby Knox was the panel’s moderator.

Panelist George Taliaferro, former Indiana University football player and the first black player drafted by the National Football League, said he jokes with his black friends that white people still have the lead in society, but also noted there is a lot of truth to his statement.

Taliaferro was passing out candy on Halloween in 2005 to three trick-or-treaters who had knocked on his door. As he placed candy in the bag of the third child, the child turned to him and said, “Thanks, n—er,” he recalled.

“Equality — until white people get the notion that they are not better than any other human being on the face of the Earth just because they are white — it’s not going to change,” Taliaferro said. “That’s the thing that bothered me.”

There is a fundamental change in thinking that needs to take place in society, agreed Byron Bangert, chairman of the Bloomington Human Rights Commission. People need to consider that everyone deserves opportunities to have things like health care, education and other public services.

“When you look at our society today, it seems to me that equal opportunity does not exist for most of our citizens,” he said.

Thinking has already begun to change on many equality issues.

Sheila Suess Kennedy, professor of law and public policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, recalled one of her first job interviews at a law firm, where the partners interviewing her equated being a woman with having a glass eye.

But now, she said, there’s broader thinking among younger people that often clashes with opinions of the older generation.

“I look at my students and I think, just kill my generation off and things will get a whole lot better,” Kennedy said. “My students are engaged. They are worried about their communities. They understand the inequities in fiscal things that we’re discussing. They are concerned about the common good in a way that I’m afraid that my generation isn’t.”

There are other things that need attention.

Jean Capler, a social worker and president of Fair Talk, a grassroots group working to achieve full marriage equality for same-sex couples in Indiana, said she feels that though attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons have improved, there have been no legal actions to improve their status.

“We’ve come so far in so many ways, and yet, it’s still the case that a social work colleague of mine is married to the person she loves, and they pay their taxes and she has her social work practice in town, and I have my social work practice in town and I’m legally barred here in Indiana from marrying the person I love,” Capler said.

Having conversations with people from diverse backgrounds is one of many ways to bring equality issues to the forefront of public thinking, panelists said.

Though Kennedy may think her generation is holding the younger ones back, Capler said she was not ready to give up on all people coming together to work on equality issues.

“All of us, if we’re really going to achieve anything close to equality, whether it’s economic equality, or equality around certain civil rights issues, I think it comes down to all of us taking responsibility to not sit on the sidelines and be quiet,” Capler said.

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2013


About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.