Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: Culture, Theory and Leadership

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: Culture, Theory and Leadership

Article excerpt

THE LAST WORD: Culture, Theory and Leadership.

Recently, Rutgers University President Francis Lawrence stunned the higher education community and the country with his remarks about the "genetic, hereditary" factors ostensibly preventing African Americans and other students of color from faring better on standardized tests. Although Lawrence repeatedly and vehemently retracted his statements, protests continue, as do calls for his resignation.

The rhetorical firestorm this incident provoked has been neither short-lived nor isolated.

As we entered February and Black History Month, I became aware of other colleges experiencing their annual dissonance -- reactionary elements still linger -- over programming slated to address African-American themes. I suspect this year's discourse will prove to be especially intense in light of Lawrence's utterances and the resulting public outcry.

On my campus, a two-year access college of a major urban university which serves a heterogeneous population, controversy swirled around a multicultural luncheon. The Minority Student Affairs (MSA) office sponsored an "open lunch" celebrating the plurality of cultures present in our enrollment. Students and faculty were asked to indicate their interest in attending by returning a postcard. All proceeds were earmarked for MSA and channeled into a development fund for future projects under its auspices.

Given careful planning and thoughtful execution, the luncheon went smoothly. Ninety percent of the postcards MSA distributed in advance were redeemed at the event. The program accomplished its aim of bringing together multicultural students and staff who had limited opportunities for interaction outside the classroom.

A conflict, however, erupted when the next issue of the college newspaper printed a letter from a white student criticizing MSA for promoting stereotypes in its selection of lunch choices, e.g., stir-fry vegetables as the Asian-American entree. This individual attacked that office for pandering to racial misconceptions by supporting such an activity, questioning the integrity and sensitivity of its administration.

This letter, in turn, prompted heated discussion at hastily called sessions of the African-American Cultural Association (AACA) and the Student Government Association, both of whom felt stung by the grievance lodged against MSA. After animated and sometimes bitter debate, a response was drafted and later published in the same newspaper by an elected officer of student government and member of AACA. Despite the emotion this issue had engendered, "Staci's" (let us call her that) rebuttal masterfully synthesized compassion and logic, ideas and examples. …

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