January 23, 2004

Race issues far from black and white

It was made official Wednesday evening that students of Asian descent will be included in the Provost's Initiative on Minority Issues (PIMI). Although a minority in the greater U.S. population, Asians and Asian Americans had previously been excluded from the PIMI because they are an overrepresented minority at the University and at colleges across America.

We applaud the PanAsian Solidarity Coalition for taking the initiative to become included in PIMI. Clearly there are students on campus who feel marginalized or ignored, and the committee must address these issues to ensure that every student on campus feels comfortable in the University's academic setting.

Issues of institutionalized racism are scary and difficult to confront—but that is not a good enough reason to avoid a frank and comprehensive discussion. Classrooms, house meetings, club meetings, the pages of campus newspapers, advisers' and administrators' offices need to be the new forums for debate and dialogue, however upsetting that dialogue might be. Students need to be clear and organized in explaining their experiences, and the administration must be open to change. PIMI is a step in the right direction, but we need a close analysis of how effective current University programs are in addressing race and ethnicity issues on campus. Is our reliance on race- and ethnicity-based categories alleviating problems or creating and reinforcing problems?

Students who need help should get help. Whether a student needs help because she has been economically disadvantaged her entire life, whether that student has been discriminated against based on her race, whether that student is the only woman in her field—the University community needs first to be aware of the problem and second to be committed to correcting it. Mentorship programs, internship programs, Provost initiatives help, but what we need most is an open and honest dialogue. A frank dialogue about race relations on campus will be uncomfortable. It will make many of us upset, angry, sad, and embarrassed. And that's the point—this issue is infuriating. It's disgraceful. University of Chicago: we can do better.