Members from the Provost's Initiative on Minority Issues (PIMI) addressed a sea of multi-colored faces Wednesday night to announce that the Asian student community would fall under the purview of the year-old administrative committee.
Cathy Cohen, professor in the political science department, moderated the panel discussion, which included Provost Richard Saller, Vice-president Steve Klass, and English professor Ken Warren. They each spoke briefly about their role in PIMI before opening the floor to questions.
"We discovered that in particular many, if not all, of the issues that are facing African-American students, Latino and Latina students, Native American students, although a small number in our current community, are the same issues facing our Asian student population," said Warren, co-chair of the steering committee for PIMI.
PIMI, formed in January 2003, was commissioned to review all issues related to enhancing diversity at the University through a broad scope of responsibilities, according to an informational flyer distributed at the meeting. The committee will make recommendations on nearly any issue pertaining to race or ethnicity, such as faculty recruitment and retention, student concerns, and hiring outside vendors or construction contractors.
Under the new policy, Asian faculty and students will be invited to serve on the committee and issues concerning the Asian community will come under its purview.
Warren said the announcement to include the Asian community was somewhat belated, and the actual decision had been made during the fall but delayed due to logistical concerns.
Klass said the Asian community was initially excluded from PIMI because the committee first formed to discuss the issues of underrepresentation at the University as compared to the national population. After extensive research about the different cultural groups on campus, the administration recognized that enough commonality existed to include all minorities under the common initiative, according to Klass.
"Asians have been concerned about their lack of inclusion in the minority community since the initiation of PASC [PanAsian Solidarity Coalition]. In fact, this is one of the issues Asian students first came together about," said Malika Anand, political chair of PASC.
Anand said PSAC, in various forms, had been attempting to gain recognition before the creation of PIMI, even submitting a 22-page report to the administration two years ago that recommended the inclusion of Asian students in minority debate. "The creation of PIMI, however, provided an opportune moment during which the University was already considering its minority policy," Anand added.
At a prepared statement reading at the meeting, Anand said the University must recognize that the way minorities are treated is unacceptable, and a discussion must continue as long as it takes to improve. "This is not a zero sum game, in U of C terms," she said.
Saller affirmed the University's commitment to increasing diversity and said his position as Provost required him to address all issues, including those of race, within the context of the academic environment at the University. "In the current legal climate, it is important that whatever we do in the way of minority initiatives is rooted in principle in terms of our core mission," Saller said, adding that he believes diversity to be consistent with this mission.
In the past five years, the University has hired 15 minority professors in the departments of humanities and the social sciences, a number the constitutes 15 percent of all new faculty acquired during that time, according to Saller. Currently, minorities make up 2.7 percent of the faculty, a number that, while lower than the national population, is consistent with similar statistics at peer institutions, like Harvard and Stanford, Saller said.
The meeting initially convened in the mezzanine area above Harper Librarya space regularly reserved for cultural groupsbut as the capacity crowd began to spill out the entrances, officials moved the meeting to Social Science 122 to better accommodate the large audience. While black students seemed to be the strongest presence at event, there were many Asians, South-Asians, Hispanics, and several whites on hand to hear the panel discussion.
Although the inclusion of Asian students in PIMI was the central issue of the night, the majority of comments directed toward the panel concerned general problems confronting minority groups at the University. One student asked about the University's recruitment of minority students, insisting that more special programs needed to be implemented to attract students of color. "You need to show people the University for what it is, not for what they can find," the student said.
Another audience member complained about the unequal treatment that many students experience in the classroom, saying that teachers often avoid eye contact with minority students to discourage their participation. After the comment, murmurs of agreement ran through the crowd.
Saller and Klass looked at each other blankly, and then both gazed at Warren, a black man, to provide some response to the distraught student.
After a lengthy response addressing the issue, Warren concluded: "It's a difficult situation that may not have many answers."