A closer look at the multicultural fervor

By Josh Jorgensen

Joi Lewisƒ?TM announcement of resignation two weeks ago was stunning and distressing for many in attendance. As I sat in Kagin listening to the responses from students to this news, I realized that they would ensure that institutional change would occur at Macalester. I have great faith in the often-unrealized power of students, and Lewisƒ?TM departure will inspire us to change what we think is wrong. For these reasons, Tinbete Ermyasƒ?TM Feb. 17 ƒ?oeFrom the Margin to the Centerƒ?? (ƒ?oeThe token ƒ?diverse pictureƒ?TM is false advertisingƒ??) was especially timely. However, Iƒ?TMd like to challenge Ermyas on two counts.Ermyas says, ƒ?oeMacalester as an institution has failed me and my fellow students of color miserably.ƒ?? The debate on campus over multiculturalismƒ?TMs presence has deep historical roots and will stretch far into the future. But how we shape our discourse on the matter is up to us and us alone. Like Ermyas, I enrolled at Macalester in full support of multiculturalism, honestly believing it was and should be a core pillar of our mission. In the time I have been here, unlike Ermyas, I have been alienated by the student movement that claims to champion multiculturalism. Multiculturalism on campus has come to mean blind advocacyƒ?”it is engagement in cynical, unproductive, disparaging critique, instead of constructive effort to promote true multiculturalism. Has Macalester failed students of color miserably? Perhaps, but Ermyasƒ?TM assertion doesnƒ?TMt help me to see it.

Another part of Ermyasƒ?TMs argument that doesnƒ?TMt have me convinced is that ƒ?oethe College has made an art out of assigning one or two minority voices on boards and committees that make powerful decisions, relegating them to being the token person of color to whom the College can turn whenever they need their guilt appeasedƒ?݃?? Two points: First, I wonder what the response would be were there no persons of color on boards and committees. The administration would obviously be discriminating against said persons, neglecting the thoughts and ignoring the voices of the already under-represented. What if boards and committees were chock full of minority voices, what then? The administration would be pandering to student concerns, clearly attempting to preempt any accusations of discrimination. ƒ?oeFalse advertising,ƒ?? you know?

Second, I honestly wish Ermyas would come out and say what he really means: our administration discriminates. Throwing around such phrases as ƒ?oetoken person of colorƒ?? hides behind a veil of civility, but the author knows full well what he is implying, and what his audience will hear. Tell me, who in the administration hopes ƒ?oethat those who are really in positions of power and privilege wonƒ?TMt ever be exposed?ƒ?? In short, who is racist? Is it Brian Rosenberg? Diane Michelfelder? Laurie Hamre? David Wheaton? Is it Jim Hoppe, whose ƒ?oerestructuringƒ?? Ermyas mocks? No, of course notƒ?Ý itƒ?TMs the ƒ?oeCollege.ƒ?? Ermyas says that, though he loves Macalester, he questions the ƒ?oesupposed loveƒ?? the college has for multiculturalism and him. The ease with which we covertly accuse the system of racism does nothing to help multiculturalism. All the rhetoric about ƒ?oesystemicƒ?? and ƒ?oeinstitutionalizedƒ?? prejudice appeals to those who would work against said prejudice, but in the end it also does not improve the situation. So go ahead, name names.

As I said before, I have faith in studentsƒ?TM ability to achieve great things when they really want to. Similarly, I believe the Macalester community has the potential to address the question of multiculturalism on campus from a dynamic, nuanced point of view. In fact, it is an insult to the very nature of our educational institution not to approach policy-making with an open mind. Macalester will not fail us miserably if we, as students and as activists, are careful to avoid assumptions about the collegeƒ?TMs administration and about the ƒ?oeclimateƒ?? at our school.

Contact Josh Jorgensen ƒ?TM08 at [email protected]