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College students eye racial relations

Graphic October 7, 1998
Web posted at: 11:12 p.m. EDT (2312 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Racial problems and possible solutions were aired Wednesday when faculty and students from 44 New York City college campuses gathered together.

"If you want kids to learn about race and the right ways and the wrong ways, you have to start young with the family," one young participant said.

Other students described racial problems they've faced. For one young woman, it was a guidance counselor who told her she wasn't college material.

"He stood there and told me, 'You Hispanics always gotta go home and take care your family,'" said Veronica Gonzalez. "He told me I wouldn't make it. It really had an impact on my life."

But Gonzalez didn't let the man's racial attitudes stop her. She is now a graduate student.

The Racial Legacies Summit also included lectures, a play involving slave narratives and the videotape "Why Can't We Talk about Race?"

The gathering comes one month after President Clinton's Initiative on Race completed a 15-month study. A key finding was that America needs to keep talking about racial diversity.

Some experts believe the study's impact has been lost in the barrage of news about Clinton's sex scandal.

"Political shenanigans in Washington have all but derailed interest in race, and I think that's quite unfortunate," said Columbia University Professor Michael Dyson.

Educators believe higher education holds a key to promoting racial diversity.

A newly released Ford Foundation poll found that only 33 percent of those questioned believe the nation is growing together. More than half -- 55 percent -- agree that racial diversity courses should be mandatory.

Dyson likes to talk about hope.

"It gives you the possibility of overcoming what you see with your eyes -- and imagining a different future."

Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

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