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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Viewpoint: Deprived of diversity

BY SAMUEL MYERS

Published January 20, 2014

Last November’s #BBUM hashtag that took over social media for a few days temporarily made room for a dialogue about the lack of diversity at the University of Michigan. Occurring simultaneously with similar movements at other large universities, much attention became focused on the general and widespread lack of diversity in higher education. It seemed that, for a moment, we, as a university but also as a nation, were poised to call into question our education and what it was doing to foster a more racially aware and equitable world.

Unfortunately, as most internet-fueled movements do, the #BBUM hashtag lost its luster. The discussion about the severe lack of diversity at the University fell back into the depths of academia and modern civil rights discourse, both of which are regrettably not sexy enough for “news” — CNN, MSNBC, let alone FOX News. Though I felt very personally connected to the movement, my own vigor faded too — admittedly, it was finals time, and so my anxieties and attention were elsewhere.

This is a new semester, though, and I do not yet have a paper assigned. I have also been presented with an opportunity to reconsider and criticize what my university is doing to fight institutional, subtle and the many other iterations of racism. I am in my third class within the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. In DAAS, I have found the most talented, critical and personable professors of any that I’ve encountered at the University. I have also found that discussions are livelier than in any other department and that students feel very legitimately connected to the material. Some things that I have not found: people majoring in business or economics, people majoring in engineering, people majoring in math or people majoring in science.

I cannot speak to the actual frequency with which business or engineering students take DAAS classes — or any other courses that deal very intimately with the United States’ blatant and undeniable history of racial inequality. I can, though, speak from my own experience and also from these departments’ degree requirements. Undergraduate engineering students need only complete three credits in humanities. In LSA, to get a Bachelor of Arts or Science degree, students must take but one “Race & Ethnicity” course. And speaking from experience with many students, these small opportunities — to enhance one’s understanding of how race inflects politics, economics and social life — are often spent in search of easy A’s to counteract the wanton grading in science and math departments.

If we aren’t taught in college — though earlier would be better — that racism is not gone or, for that matter, that unfettered capitalism is producing more and more discrepancy and stratification in wealth, then these injustices are doomed to continue.

In light of the #BBUM movement and my own experiences, I am prepared to ask, what is the University really doing to fight racism, poverty and inequality? What is any university or business school doing? If these things are not central to every college student’s education, then what are the real prospects of achieving a better world? Or perhaps I’m mistaken in assuming that is the goal.

I know, too, that the opposite argument could be brought against me. After all, I can admit that I have never taken a college-level math or accounting course, and most LSA students probably do not. Granted, our abilities to calculate an integral or balance checkbooks may very well suffer. But thousands of future doctors, executives, economists and programmers — indeed high-paid and powerful people — graduate every year without knowing anything about the War on Drugs and that hundreds of thousands of minorities are in prison for petty drug offenses, their families and communities devastated as a result. Who suffers then?

Samuel Myers is an LSA junior.

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