Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review: Hoosier Hysteria: A Fateful Year in the Crosshairs of Race in America

Hoosier Hysteria: A Fateful Year in the Crosshairs of Race in America Hoosier Hysteria: A Fateful Year in the Crosshairs of Race in America by Meri Henriques Vahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1963 was a tumultuous year no matter where you resided in America. Hoosier Hysteria (a name commonly known to refer to enthusiasm for college sports, but the phrase is aptly turned on its head in this book) gives readers a glimpse into what that year looked like on the campus of a major university located in the heart of the Midwest. Meri is an incoming freshman at Indiana University in the fall of 1963. She's a Jewish woman from New York entering a place where white Christians are the majority, which becomes just one of many culture shocks she gets, even in that first day.

Meri ends up being a part of the school's slow move toward integration, because IU at this moment in time is staunchly against integration, civil rights, political activism, women's rights, the Kennedy Administration as a whole, and a host of things that were deemed too radical at the time. What readers get is a personal account of a young woman that for the most part is a complete outsider to all of this chaos, being able to reflect on how this made an impact on her as a person, on the campus, and on the rest of the region.

Reading this book revealed to me, a lifelong Indiana resident, some of the more shameful parts of this state and how, even forty years later when I attended college in Indiana (though not IU), some of the same issues still arose. They don't teach you in your Indiana history class that IU itself, as well as large populated areas such as Indianapolis, were so bigoted at this point in American history. If you learned anything at all about racism in the state, the examples given always pre-dated WWII, which tells me that this late-stage institutional bigotry is not something the state wants to remember.

And there were parts of Meri's college experience that reflected my own. While racism wasn't front and center during my college years, classism was prevalent, as well as a religious fervor that could turn a relatively pleasant person into someone you no longer recognized. I even experienced a similar incident like Meri did with the deck of cards frightening her neighbor that the devil might be coming to get her, only my experience pertained to a Ouija board and a neighbor so terrified she acquired a bottle of holy oil to counteract anything that might have been conjured into the dorm. These were the same students that were afraid to be influenced by taking a religious studies class, but then once they did, they didn't see the class as promoting commonality in religious beliefs, but as a way to learn more about someone's beliefs in order to convince them to join their side—similar to the change that Meri saw in her friend Shennandoah after attending church with her family.

It was fascinating to see that much about attending a Midwestern college hasn't changed. While college administrations are no longer looking into the personal politics of their students and making sure they are completely above board on the school's definition of morality, the local students still seem to bring plenty of culture shock to those who are of a different city, country, or mindset.

*Book provided by NetGalley

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