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September 08, 1988 - Image 21

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The Michigan Daily, 1988-09-08

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 8, 1988 - Page 2i

IDENTITY

Institutional racism:

BY JIM PONIEWOZIK
The word "racism," for many
people, conjures up images of hood-
ed Ku Klux Klan mobs and racial
epithets.
But in recent years, people at the
University and elsewhere have be-
gun to speak of a new, subtler type
of racism. One that flows down from
societal institutions rather than out
of the mouths of bigots. One that
oppresses minorities by keeping
them down rather than putting them
down.
THIS TYPE of racism is known
as institutional racism. It is a term
with which many are unfamiliar and
few feel comfortable defining. But
those who do feel it is prevalent
within the University - whose
structure, they say, hinders the ad-
vancement of minorities, and whose
academics overemphasize the teach-
ings and culture of white Wester-
ners.
"We can all think that we live in
an institution that is 'color-blind' -
yet that same institution could be
making assumptions... about' what is
'classic literature,"' said Law Prof.
Alex Aleinikoff, a member of Fac-
ulty Against Institutional Racism.
FAIR was founded in summer
1987 by a group of University fac-
ulty who sought to fight what they
saw as a University system that
sends a message to minorities -
through elements such as its curric-
ulum and disproportionately small
representation of some minorities on
staff - that they are not welcome.
This message is also delivered in
less obvious forms, FAIR members
say.
ALEINIKOFF TOLD of a
classroom in the Law Quad whose
walls are adorned with pictures of
famous Law School alumni. "Al-
most all of the pictures hanging in
the classroom are white males," Al-
einikoff said. "To a white male stu-
dent, this may seem trivial."
But to a woman or a minority
student - who sees these faces ev-

ery day in class - the effect can be
demoralizing, and in combination
with other subtle cues sent by soci-
ety every day, ultimately defeating,
he said.
A more serious signal is the lack
of minority faculty on campus. Cur-
rently, 3.2 percent of University
tenured and tenure-track faculty are
Black. This figure, while higher than
at many of the University's peer in-
stitutions, is still only slightly more
than one-quarter of the percentage of
Blacks in America.
Several student groups and
faculty members have demanded the
University intensify its recruitment
of minority faculty.
"THERE'S SO few role models
that the image of the faculty says (to
minorities) that 'there's not a place
for people like you in this group,"'"
said Barbara Ransby, a graduate
student in history and member of the
United Coalition Against Racism
steering committee.
Ransby said colleges also dis-
criminate by using standards estab-
lished by - and biased toward -
the white middle class. One exam-
ple, she said, is the University's re-
liance on standardized test scores,
which have been criticized by some
educators as being culturally and ra-
cially biased.
Tests such as the SAT, Ransby
said, "measure not some intrinsic
thing called 'smartness,' but how
much a test taker resembles and
thinks like those judging the test...
white, middle-class males." Thus,
they place minorities at a disadvan-
tage, effectively imposing a "color
barrier" in admissions, she said.
BUT INSTITUTIONAL racism
is rooted more deeply than systems
of testing, more deeply than curr-
icula, even more deeply than the
colleges themselves, Ransby said -
our very concept of teaching is bi-
ased.
University classes are based on a
system in which teachers dissemi-
nate information to students, who

passively receive it. This, she said,
differs from the approach taken in
Black cultural institutions - such as
Black American churches - which
place greater emphasis on input
from the learner, and thus forces
Black students to compete in an un-
familiar environment.
University Vice Provost for Mi-
nority Affairs Charles Moody said
changes within the University will
have to go deeper than changes in
curriculum or faculty to combat in-
stitutional racism.
"YOU HAVE TO change the
norms, the heroes," Moody said, "so
it becomes the norm... to view plu-
rality and diversity as the norm of
the institution rather than something
outside the framework of the insti-
tution."
Members of FAIR plan to issue a
report this fall on institutional ra-
cism on campus. But although the
report will include a "shopping list"
of issues the group feels need to be
addressed - such as minority facu-
lty recruitment - FAIR member'
Mark Sandler, a University librarian,
said the group will probably stop
short of making direct demands of
University administration.
But other members of the Uni-
versity community have taken the
fight against institutional racism
further, pushing for changes in the
institution through protest.
While civil rights protests in
decades past focused on fighting
more overt discrimination, such as
racial segregation, students involved
in recent University protests have
broadened the scope of their attacks
to the establishment's structure, ra-
ther than its acts or policies.
LAST YEAR'S furor over re-
marks made by LSA Dean Peter
Steiner exemplified this wider focus.
During a Sept. 17, 1987 speech to a
group of LSA department heads,

Steiner addressed affirmative action
in minority hiring, saying:
"Our challenge is not to change
this University into another kind of
institution where minorities would
naturally flock in much greater
numbers. I need not remind you that
there are such institutions - includ-
ing Wayne State and Howard Uni-
versity."
Student activists decried these
remarks as racist and responded with
massive protests, including a 26-
hour sit-in at Steiner's office.
But as the controversy over
Steiner continued, the protesters be-
gan to direct their complaints not
merely at the dean, but at the entire
University institution. Not only did
the remarks reflect an anti-affirma-
tive action attitude on the part of the
administration, protesters charged,
the predominantly-white University
leadership fosters a pro-racist atmo-
sphere.
AFTER INTERIM University
President Robben Fleming said
Steiner would not be punished for
his "poorly worded" remarks,
UCAR member Lillien Waller said:
"The fact that Steiner can proceed
with impunity, if not the tacit
approval of the administration,
demonstrates the rampant institu-
tional racism present among Uni-
versity administrators."
For many, the Steiner issue illus-
trated a "Catch-22" of institutional
racism: by the very nature of societal
institutions, those with the most
power to change the system are
white - and thus benefit the most
from the status quo.
But some students, faculty, and
administrators believe outside pres-
sure can effect internal change.
"Sometimes the impetus for
change comes from outside the halls
of power," said Moody, noting that
student anti-racism protests in spring

1987 yielded several concessions,
including the creation of the Office
of Minority Affairs.
RANSBY AGREED, but added
it may be too much to expect to
change administrators' attitudes
about the institution's structure. "I
don't think the present administra-
tion was persuaded into making
changes, I think they were pres-
sured," she said.
Motivating students to provide
the pressure against institutional
racism - as opposed to generating
protests about specific issues, such
as Steiner's comments - can be
difficult, Ransby said. But she added

that rallying students around specific
causes, such as the push for a cam-
pus-wide Martin Luther King holi-
day, can help advance the broader
cause.
"The short-term campaigns will
hopefully work toward that goal,"
she said, "...(But) that's obviously
not something that's going to hap-
pen next term."

UM News in
The Daily
764-0552

THE ECUMENICAL CAMPUS CENTER
FOR
INTERNATIONAL UNDERSTANDING
-Are you interested in Global Understanding,
Peacemaking and Ethics?
-You are invited to visit the Ecumenical Campus
Center and participate in its programs and activities
including:
" Fall Picnic-for new and continuing foreign students
and scholars at Island Drive Park, Sunday, September
11 at noon.
" Tuesday Lunch-Speakers and lunch at the Interna-
tional Center, every Tuesday noon beginning Septem-
ber 13 throughout the school year. Topics on current
world, national and university issues.
" International Dinner-Open to all foreign students
and scholars on October 21 at First Presbyterian
Church.
For information call Nile Harper, Shirley Lewis, or Betty
Cowley, at 662-5529, or visit at 921 Church Street
(between Hill and Oakland Streets.)

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