The word “diversity” has become somewhat of a slogan for the University amidst the battles over affirmative action in recent years. On Nov. 8, 2006, diversity was transformed into a rallying cry for progressive students and staff when University President Mary Sue Coleman pledged to continue to fight for diversity despite the passage of Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment banning affirmative action. She said the word 21 times in her address to campus that day, but not once did she define what it meant. Despite how often the word is tossed around on campus not a single administrator has provided students with a definition.
Students and administrators alike have accepted the term diversity without a definition, and it continues to be a part of the daily University jargon similar to the multitude of confusing acronyms we use so often. Therefore, I was far from surprised when I heard that The Michigan Daily was going to have a diversity page in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. People familiar with King’s life and work see this time of year as a time when many people celebrate a misrepresentation of what King stood for or ignore everything he said after the famed “I Have A Dream” speech.
I’ve heard people on both ends of the political spectrum argue that when King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he meant race should not be considered. They say that King dreamed of a society where no one looked at race. But this is far from the truth. To live in a colorblind society would be to live in a society that doesn’t allow people to be proud of their race and everything it means to them. King simply dreamed of a society in which people would not be judged because of their race, not one where race was ignored.
The constant talk of diversity on campus is empty rhetoric that seemingly makes as much sense as completely ignoring one’s race. What does diversity mean? When I go to weekly meetings for the Black Student Union I sit in a room with a group of diverse people. I sit among people from various cities, states, countries, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. I learn from their experiences, because I haven’t had these experiences myself. We all share the commonality of identifying as black Americans, but there is so much diversity that is encompassed in that identity – as is true for any other identity.
So what does the University mean by diversity? The campus community could be racially homogenous, but still be diverse. It’s time for our administration to stop seeking pats on the back for “standing up for what’s right” and “putting their necks on the line” (things I’ve heard administrators claim), and put some substance behind their rhetoric. It’s time for the administration to invest more money towards the needs of minority students. For example, more support is needed for the Comprehensive Studies Program; Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs is falling apart; and the Center for Afro & Afro-American Studies needs to be funded like the other academic units so that it can operate normally when funds are tight. This list could go on.
The University must stop blaming Proposal 2 for its problems and using affirmative action as its crutch. Affirmative action was a tool to admit deserving students to this campus. Those students deserved to be here and will continue to deserve to be here. It’s time for the University to pick up a new tool and hammer out a definition for how to move forward.
Sheldon Johnson is an LSA senior and a former speaker of the Black Student Union.