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January 13, 1989 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-01-13

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0

OPINION
Page 4 Friday, January 13, 1989 The Michigan Daily

"

;

'Diversity

Day'

subverts vision

By the Steering Committee of
the United Coalition Against
Racism
The birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
has been a legal public holiday since
1983. Soon after that designation, Black
student activists and their allies began the
push to have the University fully recog-
nize this holiday and its significance by
cancelling classes and closing all offices.
This demand has been presented to the
University regents several times. And each
time, up until the last, they have re-
sponded in a hypocritical and myopic
fashion. Yet, in 1989 it appears that all
this has changed, that the administration
has had a sudden, unprovoked, self-en-
lightened change of heart. Classes are can-
celled for "Diversity Day", which just
happens to fall on the same day as the
MLK holiday. In order to have a clear un-
derstanding of this apparent flip-flop in
position on the part of the University, it
is necessary to review a few highlights in
the history behind the struggle for the
MLK holiday at Michigan.
Protest and Demands
In 1987, in the midst of racial incidents
and subsequent protests on campus, the
then newly formed United Coalition
Against Racism (UCAR) presented the
University with a list of twelve demands
aimed at combating institutional racism.
One of the demands on that list was a re-
peat of a previous demand: Full recogni-
tion of the MLK holiday including
cancellation of classes and closing of all
offices. On March 4, 1987 hundreds of
'the United Coalition Against Racism is
a"tnulti-racial student group.

students crowded into former president
Shapiro's conference room and read the
UCAR demands to then provost James
Duderstadt. Unfortunately Duderstadt did
not have the foresight to recognize the se-
riousness of students regarding the MLK
demand. There was no positive response
from the University.
Protest around this issue reached a cul-
mination in November 1987 as anti-racist
students, led by UCAR once again packed
the Administration conference room and
demanded to the Regents that; "If the Uni-
versity did not close classes for MLK Day,
the students would." We proposed that,
instead of business as usual, the Univer-
sity reserve this day for alternative educa-
tion about the impact of racism on our
society and discussion of ways to begin
combatting institutional racism.
Students reasoned that the act of can-
celling classes would be an opportunity
for the University administration to show
some leadership and seriousness about
fighting racism and addressing the con-
cerns of people of color on this campus.
As a result, special meetings were held
with interim president Robert Fleming to
discuss the issue of MLK day. Fleming
rudely clipped his fingernails while stu-
dents spoke and he responded that the
University administration would not ask
the regents to declare an official holiday in
part because the lost class time would
cause an inconvenience to professors.
Once again, the University refused to take
a stand against racism. UCAR called for a
boycott of classes and sponsored alterna-
tive education events for the day.
Protest commenced in the early morning
hours on January 18, 1988 when student
activists picketed Angell Hall, encourag-
ing students to boycott class and partici-
pate in educational sessions on racism,
sexism and Third World issues. Students

were not blocked entirely from the build-
ing, but only from the main entrances. To
attend class in this building, they had to
make a conscious effort and choice to by-
pass the picketers, and did so understand-
ing the importance of this day.
Some argue that anti-racist activists
should not have encouraged other students
to boycott class, but to attend class, since
MLK stood for education. Those who
would make such an argument have
somehow gotten a very one-sided, watered-

this summer the administration announced
that classes would not be in session for
MLK's birthday beginning this year. This
day has been designated "Diversity Day"
by University officials. This is clearly an-
other example of the administration
showing a delayed reaction to student
protest, while at the same time claiming
that student pressure bears no significance
on their decisions. This is similar to the
announcement of Dean Steiner's resigna-
tion some nine months after the student

'The refusal by the administration to give its most exploited sector
this day off stands in direct contradiction to the principles of
economic justice and equality for which MLK and the Civil Rights
Movement stood.'

justice and equality for which MLK and
the Civil Rights Movement stood.
Secondly, to designate this holiday
"Diversity Day" is equally offensive. Is
this a day when we should celebrate our,
university's diversity or applaud our coun-
try's progress in racial matters? NO. We
might be celebrating diversity on this
campus if we had 12 percent Black en-
rollment and equally high numbers of
Latino, Native American and Asian
American students and faculty. Or if peo-
ple of all races and classes had equal access
to the University. We might applaud.
progress on racial equality if Blacks and
Latinos did not continue to be dispropor-
tionately represented in the ranks of the
homeless, unemployed and impoverished.
But none of these things are true.
Continue the Struggle
The MLK holiday is a day we should set
aside to specifically remember and honor
the activists who struggled and sacrificed
to begin to make changes in this racist
society. How should we honor them? The
best way to honor them is to continue the
struggle. Only with the kind of struggle
that MLK stood for can we hope to move
forward. The name of the holiday is as
important as the legacy behind it.
Thus, in short we must see this holiday.
as a victory for the student anti-racist
movement and congratulate the
Commemoration of A Dream Committee,
the Office of Minority Affairs, members
of UCAR and supportive students for their
efforts to make MLK Day successful.
However, we must also be aware of the
inherent contradictions in the University's
"Diversity Day", and continue the strug-
gle.

down version of what King and the
Movement stood for, and a
misunderstanding of what UCAR is
struggling against. MLK did indeed pro-
mote education that was non-racist.
UCAR, on MLK Day and throughout the
year at the Ella Baker-Nelson Mandela
Center, promotes alternative anti-racist
education, which informs and challenges
rather than misinforms and pacifies. On
this day we urged the University to re-
evaluate and expand its curriculum. In ad-
dition UCAR believes, as King did before
us, that education is a right, not a priv-
ilege. And we continue to struggle on
many fronts to make this dream become a
reality using Dr. King's lessons in direct
action and confrontation as shining exam-
ples.
Inadequate Response
As a result of the protest on MLK Day,

sit-in at his office.
Despite some success, we must see this
as only a limited victory for several rea-
sons. First, although classes are cancelled,
all University offices will be open and
workers will be required to work on that
day. This means that after top University
officials chill and enjoy the MLK day ac-
tivities, University workers will come in
at four o'clock to clean up behind them.
The majority of the lowest paid and
undervalued workers at the University are
people of color and are the most oppressed
by the University and its policies. King
died struggling for and with working class
people, and.they have as much a right as
students to honor MLK with a day of edu-
cational and social activities. The refusal
by the administration to give its most ex-
ploited sector this day off stands in direct
contradiction to the principles of economic

oS

-

lbe £ri3ria1
Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan

Overcoming racism:

<j

A case for the

Vol. IC, No. 74

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Unsigned editorials represent a majority of the Daily's Editorial Board. All other
rcartoons, signed articles, and letters do not necessarily represent the opinion
of the Daily.

fi

..

Whose day is it?

T T
VV HO WAS BORN on diversity day?
Nothing springs to mind other than the
blithering platitudes of President James
Duderstadt: "Twenty-first century,"
"diversity," and "multicultural Univer-
sity."
Duderstadt has proclaimed January
16 - Martin Luther King National
Holiday - "Diversity Day" for all stu-
dents to celebrate our differences. At
the same time the University of Michi-
gan Board of Regents has said that the
day is not an official University holi-
day. Neither party acknowledges the
student struggle against racism implicit
in asking that Martin Luther King Day
be honored with the cancellation of
both work and classes.
Last year on MLK Day, anti-racist
student activists picketed Angell Hall to
protest the continuation of business as
usual while the University administra-
tion failed to advance key minority is-
sues such as admissions and minority
support services. The administration
neither recognized the significance of
MLK Day nor provided a viable alter-
native such as classes on racism.
At the same time, top administrators
marched in the front of the Unity
March for the cameras; now they seem
to have forgotten MLK Day in favor of
"diversity."
Martin Luther King was inspirational
for both student and community ac-
tivists in the Civil Rights Movement.
He is a symbol for cooperation among
people working toward social change
through non-violent protest.
The implementation of "Diversity
Day" is the administration's response
to the student-worker demand for
recognition of MLK Day. The pseudo-
recognition through "Diversity Day"

The University is quick to claim
success through extensive panel
discussions, events, and articles
featuring minorities in The University
Record. This underlies the paradoxical
change from no support a year ago, to
marching into 21st century diversity
One Year Later.... Propaganda coup.
The University has never been will-
ing to reconsider its racist and classist
admissions policies which rely on the
Scholastic Aptitude Test. The Educa-
tional Testing Service, the company
which created and administers the
SAT, admits that the test correlates
more strongly with income than with
the ability to succeed in college.
The administration continues to har-
bor key administrators who espouse
racist and homophobic views. Regent
Deane Baker (R-Ann Arbor) opposed
investigations into racial harassment
while demanding investigation into
"incidents of homosexual conduct
which I cannot and will not tolerate."
Baker, just re-elected, will serve for 24
years, longer than any President.
The most significant amount of mi-
nority hiring that goes on in the Uni-
versity is in the service sector work-
force, but none of these employees get
"Diversity Day" off. While the Uni-
versity fails to hire adequate minority
or female faculty, the minority labor
force must reclean the floors in honor
of "diversity."
In its blame-the-student politics, the
administration has imposed a racial
harassment policy which only applies
to students, not the more serious insti-
tutional racism of the people in power:
faculty and administrators.

By Philip Cohen
When considering the merits of a
mandatory course on racism for students in
LSA, let's consider the mandatory school-
ing we've already had: not just racial and
ethnic stereotyping driven home through
countless hours of television and other
media, but also the impact of a lifetime of
incorporating attitudes from those around
us - parents, teachers, peers.
I choose, for example, myself.
Liberal democrats we were, in my fam-
ily, and proud of it; we supported affirma-
tive action, denounced discrimination, ap-
plauded the Civil Rights Movement. But
we also rolled up the windows and locked
the doors when we drove through
Chicago's South Side, went to schools at
least 95 percent white, and soaked up
cowboy movies, Tarzan, and the white
male political game. That was our
programming. There was (and is) a real
duality to that existence; as much as we
knew and said we knew about racism in
our lives, we weren't able to grapple with
it persistently during our daily routines.
The tide of misinformation runs too
strong to be held in check by a few stern
declarations and a well-meaning attitude.
One of the chief obstacles to overcoming
racism on a personal level is the
realization and acceptance of the magnitude
of that task - we need help.
But look: even though I have by no
means wiped clean my own racist slate -
I still have lower expectations of my
Black classmates; Black men on the street
at night conjure up violent childhood
imaginings, etc. - I don't dwell on my
guilt for these thought crimes, and you
don't have to either. What we do have to
do is think about them, recognize them,
challenge them and, yes, study them.
Philip Cohen is an LSA first-year stu-
dent

What too many whites don't realize is that
a few months worth of open-minded, well-
intentioned study does more good than a
lifetime of guilt, expressed or ignored.
Okay, discussing racism is difficult, and
we may not like to admit that it is scary,
but for most of us (especially whites) it is
just that. But rather than looking at a dis-
cussion of racism as a self-hating session
for whites (which, I believe, is the under-
lying fear for many who oppose the
course), why not consider it as we would
the prospect of any useful education: as a
gift - the chance to find ways to improve
ourselves and our surroundings. White
people don't have to study racism for the
sake of non-white people - we can do it
for ourselves. Chipping away at ingrained

course
look beyond the end of our collective nose
and realize that we owe it to ourselves to
correct a serious flaw in our social chem-
istry.
Racism shifts and changes, and combat-
ting it requires a continuous personal ef-
fort, not just a general recognition. Don't
let the success of the past fool you. The
only way we can beat this collectively is
if we first do it individually and encourage
others - especially those whose role it
will be to determine our future - to do it
with us.
A small projection: Assume for a
minute that this society has a future
(something many of us post-sixties chil-
dren are quite reluctant to do). Wouldn't it'
be wonderful to be able to trace the course,

'What too many whites don't realize is that a few months worth
of open-minded, well-intentioned study does more good than a
lifetime of guilt, expressed or ignored.'

9

racist attitudes is a cleansing process, and
any guilt or self reproach which that pro-
cess appears to create were already there.
Look: when we stretch our muscles, it
hurts; but (if done correctly) we are not
inflicting pain on ourselves, rather we are
releasing pain stored in our bodies. The
mind works much the same way.
Let's be realistic. The mandatory course
on racism is not some outrageous pro-
posal from deep in left field; it will not
label our entire way of life as evil, or de-
mand that the University as we know it be
scrapped. But the proposed course will
help us make some difficult cognitive
leaps, help us make connections. As a
University on the leading edge of change
(for better or for worse), we're ready to
lead this society to a very important,
powerful and valuable turning point: the
point at which we stop for a moment to

of U.S. history through slavery, Civil
Rights, Vietnam, and then get to a point
on the chart and say, "That's when we
were strong enough to admit our persist-n
ing mistakes. That's when we were strong
enough to make the decisions we had to
make in order to earn our own self re- ;
spect." That next step is to move beyond
believing and into breaking down our own
barriers. For too many of us there is a:
distinct difference between what we say we
believe and the messages our actions actu- : E
ally send. Recognizing those differences is
a learned skill; the prospect of learning it
puts us on the verge of a significant
breakthrough, and a future we could be
proud of.

If we don't dare imagine that future,
then we don't deserve a place in that his-
tory.

0.

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Freedom
for all?
To the Daily:
Jeff Gauthier "First
A _ u_ - e _ n .n

our student culture.
Gauthier seems to think that
we should extend first amend-
ment rights to everyone -- ev-
eryone, that is, who shares a
commitment to Gauthier's own
hia.. .n ram V a .,r ficha

thier's reinterpretation merely
replaces the word
"communism" with some other
ideal ... or does it?
Next week the University
will commemorate the
nli v._ nt r.- n,- o rti

oppression struck back at
King's opposing point of view
with a vengeance, as to some
extent they do still. Next week
we can prove to Jeff Gauthier
and others of his ilk that

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