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September 29, 1988 - Image 5

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-09-29

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PERSPECTIVES

The Michigan Daily Thursday, September 29, 1988 Page 5

The University's

favorite word

BY LISA POLLAK
It's a game kids play; they pick a
word, say it out loud, and then
quickly say it again and again -
and after a while the automatic
rapid-fire of sound becomes jumbled
and meaningless, the original word
indistinguishable to their own ears.
Though it's a game kids play,
you don't have to be a kid to play it,
and you especially don't have to be
saying the word yourself to be a
player.
"Diversity," for example, is a
word we hear often at the
University, and one we can expect to
hear even more often in the future.
Before we arrive on campus we are
promised a "diverse student body
made up of diverse interests in a
diverse town." In December 1986,
then-University President Harold
Shapiro wrote in the University
Record of his "renewed commitment
to diversity" - one that was
"renewed" twice more the next year,
after campus racial turmoil attracted
media attention.
This process of renewing the
commitment has, of course, involved
repeating the word. In speeches and
University literature over the past
two years we have heard extensive
data about the commitment to
diversity, the focus of diversity, the
path towards diversity; we read
pamphlets full of diversity programs
and diversity efforts and diversity
* goals. This year alone we can attend
lectures on "the challenges of
diversity," "diversity defined,"
"diversity in the workplace,"~
"diversity for returning students."
And if we need still more informa-
tion, we can consult Harvey Reed,
the University's newly-appointed
Diversity Agenda Coordinator. As
one student said, "It's like the word
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was actually created, rhyme and all,
to sit neatly next to 'university' in
any sentence, and it does."
Certainly the word "diversity" is
not the University's only catch-all,
automatic rapid-fire word. And cer-
tainly we have all heard such words
emanate from sources other than the
University.
"Diversity," however, seems an
especially unique and unfortunate
example. A word that outside the
context of the University is positive
and encouraging, some students say,
inside has become jumbled, mean-
ingless, and indistinguishable
These perceptions are worth not-
ing, for next week University Presi-
dent James Duderstadt will formally
introduce his Michigan Mandate -
primarily an affirmation of current
minority recruitment and retention
programs and goals - which states
the "commitment to the achievement
of diversity is the key element in our
efforts to build a University for the
21st Century."
The Michigan Mandate is a 23-
page document. It mentions the
word "diversity" 32 times.
How will students react?
"You hear about the administra-
tion's new diversity plan, you know,
and everyone moans inside," said
LSA junior Delro Harris, chair of
the Michigan Student Assembly's
Minority Affairs Committee. "I'm
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just worn out with 'diversity.' When
you say it I think about someone
saying 'Yeah, I like to wear a som-
brero and eat egg rolls or something.
"It frustrates me to hear people
running around preaching 'diversity'
as the goal," he said. "What does it
mean to say a campus is diverse? It
doesn't mean the students are equal.
It doesn't mean they respect each
other. It implies a whole bunch of
random things with nothing
connecting them."
"The word on this campus is a
joke," another student said.
"Minorities see diversity as an ideal
situation that has not yet and may
never arrive here on campus.
Majority students see all the
different faces and think that it has."
"If 'diversity' is the main goal
then we've already reached it," said
graduate student Todd Shaw, a
Black Student Union and Minority
Organization of Rackham member.
"'Diversity,' okay. But there are
words we just aren't hearing. Is this
diversity for a select few? Why
aren't we hearing things about
opportunities for working-class
people? Is it a diversity of the

middle and upper classes?"
Shaw and other students were in-
troduced to the Mandate in a Black
Leadership Dialogue on Sept. 14.
"I don't remember many of the
specific ideas," he said. "My first
reaction?... Duderstadt was talking
too much. It was 30 minutes of
preface, ten of substance..."
It's just how the game always
worked. Repeat the word over and
over; it becomes jumbled, meaning-
less, intentions indistinguishable.
Reed - who admits he doesn't
like his title - says he sympathizes
with students who complain the goal
of "diversity" obscures the fight
against institutional racism. But to
those who drafted the Mandate, to
the Office of Minority Affairs, to the
administration, Reed said, the word
is undeniably optimistic.
"In a sense, the word is cos-
metic," Reed said. "But no matter
the term, the idea is making the
University more hospitable for mi-
nority students, faculty, and staff...
If people don't want to hear the
concept, the word doesn't make a bit
of difference."
But when people do want to hear

the concept, it does.
Last summer the University ap-
proved a proposal for a "Diversity
Day," a student holiday on Martin
Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Mem-
bers of MOR and BSU protested the
day's proposed title.
"Martin Luther King has nothing
to do with diversity," Harris said.
"That's not what he preached; he
focused on equality and people
working together."
The University responded to their
concerns with a vague guarantee that
"Martin Luther King, Jr." would be
part of the day's as-yet-undecided
official title, although "diversity"
may still be mentioned - a response
Shaw calls "unsatisfactory."
In fact, there aren't a whole lot of
places on this campus anymore
where the word "diversity" is used
in what Shaw and many other
students would consider a
satisfactory manner. Vagueness and
insincerity surround it like
parentheses. "It's an umbrella to
mask the real problems," one student
said.
"It's not a perfect word," said
Joseph Owsley, director of News

game
and Information Services. "And no
one wants too much repetition. But
we don't want to sacrifice clarity; if
we use a lot of different words we
risk confusing people."
So the University played the
game. They picked a word, a good
word, a word that celebrates the
world's differences. They used it,
and used it, and used it again - and
pretty soon it was not only jumbled,
meaningless and indistinguishable,
but all-purpose as well. That's how R
it ended up 32 times in the Michigan
Mandate, and worse, that's how it
became the working title for Martin
Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.
But maybe, when the University
slows its rapid-fire, they'll realize
what the kids always do - after a
while, the word will start to make
sense again.
And maybe when that happens,
some people will decide that
"diversity" isn't necessarily the
word they wanted in the first place.
After all, there are many goals, and
many words to describe them. I'd
say the choices are diverse - but
I'm not sure you'd know what I
meant.

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