Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Race Relations Issues Overshadowed by Furor over Affirmative Action

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Race Relations Issues Overshadowed by Furor over Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

When you discuss race relations in higher education, the issues of diversity and affirmative action inevitably become a part of the dialogue. Unfortunately, those two topics often get confused as the same issue.

At the recent airing of "Race Relations in Higher Education -- A Prescription for Empowerment and Progress," a videoconference presented live via satellite by Black Issues in Higher Education, panelists agreed with that assessment. However, according to moderator Kojo Nnamdi, they were more intent on getting past the language and rhetoric and focusing on what can be done to ensure that America's institutions of higher education remain accessible to all.

Panelists included: attorney Christopher Edley Jr., professor of law at Harvard University and a senior advisor to President Bill Clinton on Racial Issues; attorney Sumi Cho, professor of law at DePaul University; Dr. Juan Francisco Lara, assistant vice chancellor of the University of California-Irvine; Dr. Katya Gibel Azoulay, assistant professor of Anthropology and chair of the Africana Studies department at Grinnell College; Dr. Stanley Fish, professor of English at Duke University; and Dr. Raymond A. Winbush, Benjamin Hooks professor of Social justice at Fisk University.

Race relations in higher education is currently one of the nation's major concerns. This point was stressed when Nnamdi noted that "as we speak," those very issues were being discussed by President Bill Clinton and his advisory committee on race at the University of Maryland.

One reason the discussion has become complicated is because the issues of diversity, proposition 209, and affirmative action have all been lumped together, members of the panel said.

"When we look at race in America, it has been framed in terms of the ... guilt that White Americans feel over what happened to African Americans," said Lara. "[That is] much different, it seems to me, than the issue of immigration."

Additionally, Duke's Fish pointed out that the terms "affirmative action" and "diversity" have been defined by the opposition and given negative connotations.

DePaul's Cho agreed and said, "I think we've got to begin thinking about what strategies long term we can begin to develope to contest the right."

Edley reminded the audience that diversity is not intended to remedy past racial injustice. Instead, it is advocated for the good of our institutions.

"By being inclusive, we create an excellent institution. The group of folk you assemble on a campus or in a classroom bring to that discussion all the richness of America's many varied experiences," Edley said.

"And moreover," he continued, "someone being trained to go to work in America of the twenty-first century who hasn't learned to deal with difference effectively simply is ill prepared to be a leader in any substantial community. …

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