Viewpoint: Real reform

BY ANDREW YAHKIND AND PAGE BUTLER


Published March 9, 2006

In case you haven't noticed, student government elections are fast approaching. The entrance of the Michigan Progressive Party and the Student Conservative Party promises to make this semester's electoral bout particularly contentious. While we must admit that we do not really know what the MPP or SCP's qualifications for student government are, they do seem passionate when it comes to talking about their political agendas.

While Students 4 Michigan does not have a political ideology and we have never really understood what politics have to do with most student government matters, we do understand that talking about dogma is a whole lot more exciting than actually working toward improvement. Late-night research and early-morning administrative meetings are not nearly as electrifying as philosophical debates over whether student government should be more "progressive" or "conservative."

As leaders of the S4M party, one might expect us to be intensely involved with the campaign jockeying that is currently taking place on campus. Unfortunately, we really have not had the time to get as involved as much as we would like. You see, it has been a busy year for LSA Student Government. LSA-SG members have been staying active by creating a new international studies minor, establishing an inexpensive LSAT familiarization course and launching the College's first student honor council. As the end of our term approaches, we must offer one last proposal for campus improvement.

In meetings with faculty and administrators, our concerns and proposed changes to the College's Race and Ethnicity requirement have been called "naive," "overly idealistic" and "dangerous," leading us to believe that we are onto something good.

In 1991, LSA faculty created the R&E requirement with the intent that all LSA students should explore "issues arising from racial or ethnic intolerance." While we whole-heartedly agree with this intent, we must also identify with Thurgood Marshall's statement that "intent will be evident in the results." In the case of the R&E requirement, the results are less than impressive on a number of fronts.

First, courses that best address issues of race and ethnicity all too often do not fulfill the R&E requirement. Some professors, worried that their classes will be filled by students simply trying to fulfill the requirement rather than pursuing an interest in the subject matter, choose not to designate their course as R&E. Perhaps this is why popular courses such as "Black Americans and the Political System" (POLSCI 324), "Intergroup Dialogues" (PSYCH/SOC 122) and "Race and Ethnicity" (CAAS 420) do not currently satisfy the R&E requirement. We think there is something wrong with this situation. The College should examine designating courses as R&E themselves, rather than allowing professors this control. If they do not, well-intentioned faculty members will continue to utilize the R&E designation as an enrollment management tool. While we recognize that such a change might take several years to be fairly evaluated and implemented, we do not believe this issue can be ignored.

In the meantime, we believe faculty should enact another revision to the R&E requirement that we view as more clear-cut. The time has come to expand the R&E requirement to address other forms of oppression and discrimination that have appeared and continue to appear in our society. The R&E requirement must be expanded into a new requirement that also includes issues such as gender, socioeconomic class, religion, disability and sexual orientation. If we are to recognize one form of oppression as worthy of mandatory study, we must also allow for the exploration of issues related to other identities. Is the College maintaining a position that racism is more important than struggles such as those related to gender discrimination, heterosexism and anti-Semitism? Creating such a hierarchy of oppression is a practice that is both philosophically and academically troubling

On March 21 and 22, we are also proposing that you, the students, be given the opportunity to voice your opinion on the R&E requirement. The issue of expansion will be up for a vote as a ballot question, along with the election of officers and representatives. If students demonstrate support for revision of the R&E requirement, as we believe they will, it will then be the LSA faculty's obligation to open up a serious dialogue on this matter. We know addressing the exploration of various forms of oppression is not nearly as exciting as the political positioning that we suspect will be returning to this page shortly, but we believe we - and our fellow students - cannot remain silent on this issue.

Yahkind is LSA-SG president. Butler is LSA-SG vice president.