Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Effectively Addressing Issues of Race on Campus. (BI Forum)

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Effectively Addressing Issues of Race on Campus. (BI Forum)

Article excerpt

Racial and ethnic diversity on college and university campuses is on the public agenda again this spring as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on the University of Michigan's admissions policies.

Rather than remedying past racism and discrimination (not to mention the present), advocates for affirmative action argue that race and ethnic background are important criteria for college admittance, in addition to academic merit, because a diverse student body creates a better learning environment.

An impressive list of American corporations also supports this argument. While many readily admit diversity helps sell product, they also maintain that a diverse work force is creative and dynamic. This is a fine argument and one that I believe is right, but as a sole defense of this policy, it too easily excuses past and present racial injustice. In addition, it overlooks what both people of color and Whites really want to say about racial considerations in hiring and admissions guidelines, as well as the present state of race and ethnic tension in America.

It was de ja vu all over again for me when I read about how classes were cancelled recently at Connecticut College so that a campus-wide meeting could take place to address a series of racial incidents and a host of other issues, including affirmative action. For the last four years, our college has held regular public forums to address racial and ethnic tensions on our own campus and in society at large.

We use a structured format for these participatory forums based on the National Issues Forums (NIF) in which participants, with the help of a trained moderator, examine the advantages and disadvantages of a range of policy choices for addressing the issue.

We also began an interracial "sustained dialogue" group of students, faculty and staff that has met weekly since 1999 to deepen and sustain the conversations that occur each semester in the policy-oriented campus forums.

Together these campus dialogues have significantly improved the campus climate and have given us a new way to teach and learn from each other. We also have learned a great deal about why race and ethnic tensions persist in America and what young people, in particular, think about how to reduce such tensions.

Our experience of several years of dialogue about this issue on campus was confirmed when I read a report by Doble Research Associates on the findings of hundreds of National Issues Forums held nationwide this past year. Like our campus dialogue groups, the structure of these forums provides a safe and comfortable space for people to talk. …

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