I was fortunate enough to attend the 2004
Dance for Mother Earth Pow Wow a few weeks ago at Crisler Arena. As
a first-time spectator, the heritage, regalia and competition were
breathtaking. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the ceremony was
the inclusiveness: Veterans, the elderly and yes, even the
so-called “White Man” were all welcomed with a rare
warmth.

Sowmya Krishnamurthy

Contrast this with the actions of the University, a major
partner in the event. From the Grand Entry speech given by the
Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Lester Monts (President
Mary Sue Coleman was noticeably out of town), in which the
University expressed its appreciation for Native American students
in the same breath that it plugged admissions, to the campus booth
prominently situated among local vendors, the air reeked of
self-interest. What is more, the University slashed funding for the
Pow Wow by 25 percent and raised the venue price of Crisler, which
contributed greatly to limiting the event from three days to two.
In a campus with less than 1 percent Native American representation
as it is, cuts to a significant cultural experience send a very
contradictory message about the University’s commitment to
diversity.

This coincides nicely with the multitude of recent budget cuts
to student services, many of which specialize in minority issues:
maintenance for the William Monroe Trotter House multicultural
center, which had to wait 10 years to obtain roof repair, decreased
staffing in the Office of MultiEthnic Student Affairs, changes to
the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and funding and
staffing cuts at the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender Affairs.

Coupled with city issues like the inadequate treatment of hate
crimes and racial profiling (the 2004 Ann Arbor Police Department
study requires further investigation), these policies may detract
future students from the University. Recent numbers are not
settling. Compared to last year, undergraduate applications by
students of color have dropped by 23 percent and admittance has
decreased by 30 percent, bringing the percentage of
underrepresented minorities to a whopping 6 percent. The
University’s actions negate much of the allegiance to
diversity defended last summer during the affirmative action
arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court. As is, many students feel
detached from the campus experience; the proverbial “minority
cafeteria table” comes to mind. Decreased funding and support
will only fuel problems of alienation and self-segregation.

Realizing the error of its ways, the administration is changing
its tune — albeit slowly. In an open letter on April 1,
Coleman announced the creation of a Standing Student Advisory
Committee, which will include representatives from student
organizations and enable student input in campus issues and
budgeting. She states her dedication to student dialogue and the
aforementioned issues; MESA, for instance, will formally rehire a
Latino coordinator. Even the Department of Public Safety is
revamping certain policies. Hate crimes are to be targeted more
thoroughly via increased officer training and expansion of hate
crime definitions in the Campus Safety Handbook.

The proposed changes are refreshing and, if anything, show the
power of student activism. But now is not time to rest; no battles
have been won. Students must utilize Coleman’s letter as a
catalyst and re-engage themselves in the campus community,
continuing to assert demands and maintain vigilance. Empty rhetoric
in the name of political correctness is meaningless; if the
University is serious about its commitment to diversity and student
opinion, we have to ensure that it “walks the walk,”
unlike the inconsistency of Pow Wow 2004. Groups such as Students
Voices in Action and the Michigan Student Assembly need to exert
pressure and work toward building a constructive discourse that
benefits all students. There should not be a relapse into a lack of
student participation and unnecessary aggression against the
University. The student vote and voice are crucial. The ball is
literally in our court; we must be the change we want to see.

Krishnamurthy can be reached at
“mailto:sowymak@umich.edu”>sowymak@umich.edu.

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