Tuesday morning, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Clarence Page will emcee a community assembly on campus diversity, hosted by University President Mark Schlissel. Preceding the assembly, The Michigan Daily talked with Page to ask him three questions on what diversity means to him.
What was your motivation behind emceeing the University’s diversity summit this week?
I think it’s a very important issue. Over the course of the last 15 or 20 years, I have been to a number of campuses around the country, to engage in dialogue around issues involving diversity among other issues, but that one in particular intrigues me. I am really happy that the University of Michigan has decided to sponsor a dialogue and bring people together so that their views can be heard, not mine, I am more of the master of ceremonies. The purpose of this is not to come in here and hear me speak, but to hear the audience speak. We are inviting people throughout the University community to come and give their views on how they envision diversity at the University of Michigan, what they think diversity should look like at the University of Michigan 20 years from now. In other words: What is their vision, and open things up so people can talk about the way things are now, the way they would like them to be and how they suggest we get there.
What do you think that both you being at the summit, as well as the summit itself, is going to do for the University in terms of diversity?
I certainly hope to be able to stimulate dialogue. Number one, I hope to get people over their initial shyness about talking about race in mixed company. The funny thing about race, gender and ethnicity issues, people are very reluctant to discuss them in mixed company. They are likely to talk about them with people who are just like themselves, people of the same kinds of backgrounds or same racial, ethnic or gender group. But folks are shy about it not so much about not having views, but being afraid of offending somebody. I think that is one of the big muzzles on a lot of people’s sense of being free to speak openly on what’s on their minds.
Finally, how has diversity impacted your personal life?
Well, I was born back in 1947. I was born back in the era where we still had Jim Crow segregation in the South … When people come to a university, think about yourself as a freshman arriving to the University of Michigan. You are in a new environment, you are leaving home, new in town, new to this culture, and if you come from a background that is very much unlike the one you come to on campus, there is a lot of hesitancy some people have about, “Is this a friendly place for me or not? Is this a place that will help me to learn or grow as an individual, or is it one where I would feel a hostile environment?” Everybody comes with different ideas and different impressions. I think what’s happening at the University of Missouri right now and this week is a good example of what could happen when (these feelings) build over. That’s a real crisis there, most colleges it doesn’t get that bad. Nevertheless, certain levels of tension are present on every campus. The university is one place where the very purpose of it is to learn about the universe, the world around you beyond the world you are accustomed to. So that’s why this is something important for the community to grapple with. I am glad the Michigan folks are doing it and I’m glad to be a part of it.