Posted on November 26, 2007

Crossing Racial Divide

Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press, November 23, 2007

Ellie Gunderson was in the minority at the schools she attended in Southfield, but that’s not the case at predominately white Georgetown University.

Still, she’s different.

Gunderson, a 19-year-old sophomore who graduated at the top of her class in 2005 from Southfield-Lathrup High School, is at the center of discussions about race and equality at the Jesuit campus just a few miles from the nation’s nexus of power. Last year, she was elected president of the university’s NAACP chapter.

That makes her one of a handful of white people to head a local unit of the civil rights organization.

“People definitely make a big deal about it,” she said.

If that’s not surprising, neither is the fact that Gunderson, while attending schools in Southfield, developed a passion for social justice so strong that she refers to it as a “calling.”


Before going to Georgetown, Gunderson was worried she might be grouped in with whites for the first time in her life. So when she got there, she began attending meetings with minority groups. Gunderson became active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and decided at the end of her freshman year to run for president after making herself known as someone who wasn’t afraid to throw out new ideas.


A rally this fall for the Jena Six—the six black teens in Jena, La., accused of beating a white teen after three nooses were found on the campus of their high school—led to a controversial article in the student newspaper. Letters went back and forth on racial issues, resulting in an October forum—hosted by the NAACP and other groups, including the newspaper—where diversity and fairness were discussed.


Gunderson said she knows she’ll never experience some of the inequities African Americans do, but she still has her experience as a minority in majority black schools—and her empathy—to inform her.

She has much to accomplish during the rest of her term, with voter-registration drives and a series of events for Black History Month being planned. But she won’t be returning as the group’s president next year.

She plans to study abroad, in South Africa.