In April 1968, Jane Elliott was a third grade teacher in the small town of Riceville, Iowa. On the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, she felt compelled to shift her lesson plans. She decided to teach her young white students about discrimination by telling the children that brown-eyed people were superior to their blue-eyed peers. She watched as the students turned on each other. Then, the next day, she reversed the script.
The exercise highlighted the arbitrary and irrational basis of prejudice, an issue that Americans continue to grapple with more than five decades later.
On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske explored that topic and others with Elliott ahead of the internationally known lecturer’s address at the Washington University Medical Campus on Monday evening. Joining the conversation was Rachelle D. Smith, a diversity, equity and inclusion leader for the School of Medicine.