The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

As Institute takes form, diversity questions persist


By Rebecca DeJarlais Eliot Brown The role of multiculturalism in the Institute for Global Citizenship has served as a point of contention since its plans were first released over a year ago. Today, three weeks after the leadership positions for the Institute were announced, numerous members of the faculty have expressed their discontent on the subject, and tensions were obvious at Tuesday’s student meeting with the Institute’s leaders.

Starting next spring, the Institute will combine the Community Service Office (CSO), the International Center, and possibly the Internship Office under the broader theme of global citizenship. President Brian Rosenberg announced on Nov. 18 that Dean of International Studies Ahmed Samatar will assume the role of the Institute’s dean and Political Science Professor Andrew Latham and Director of the Community Service Office Karin Trail-Johnson will work as associate deans.

All sides seem to recognize that the project, still in its infancy, could serve as a defining feature of the college, and thus the subject has fueled the debate over multiculturalism’s role at Macalester.

Critics of the administration’s approach to the formation of the Institute hold that ideas of multiculturalism have not received sufficient attention thus far. Further, with the leadership structure now announced and other details scant, many worry that the promises to include multiculturalism will not translate into action.

These worries were expressed repeatedly at the student forum on Tuesday where a panel including Samatar, Latham, Trail-Johnson and student representative Stephanie Raill ’06 outlined the Institute’s vision and fielded questions and criticism.

Seth Schlotterbeck ’06 said the Institute’s top leadership visibly emphasizes internationalism over multiculturalism. “What we see is not a representation from multiculturalism,” he said at the forum.

Schlotterbeck was referring to the academic concentrations of both Samatar and Latham, which focus on international issues.

Latham responded that multicultural life faculty and staff were the most-represented constituency in the planning process. Last spring, a committee of staff, faculty and students, including Dean of Multicultural Life Joi Lewis and American Studies Chair Duchess Harris, met weekly to discuss the college’s vision for the Institute. When Dean for the Study of Race and Ethnicity Jane Rhodes and Provost Diane Michelfelder arrived in the summer, the committee met again to incorporate their input.

“It is not correct that [multiculturalism is] being left behind,” Latham said. “We have listened, their voices have been heard and the final product was a consensus report endorsed by Duchess [Harris], Joi [Lewis] and Jane [Rhodes].”

Despite their roles in the planning process, Raill said she worries about the absence of a representative for multiculturalism in the formal leadership, though she stressed she is not upset with the choices of the individual deans.

“I am concerned that we’re going to start from a position where multiculturalism is not well-represented,” she said.

Both Samatar and Latham pointed to the need to build up multicultural resources on campus and give Rhodes and faculty the “resources, respect and space” to do it, instead of merging multiculturalism too quickly into the Institute, Latham said.

“The challenge is not only within the Institute, it is also for colleagues in Multicultural offices to come to the table and give ideas and guidance,” Samatar said.

Criticism of a perceived international bias in the institute adds to a history of dissatisfaction from multicultural advocates at Macalester. Multicultural initiatives on campus are often student-led, not institutional, leaving students frustrated with the lack of resources and support, said Adelante! leader Alex Flores ’08.

“Multiculturalism is a victim of a lagging institution,” Flores said. “It’s evolving, but were it not for student action in the past and student action now, there wouldn’t be this ongoing story for progress.”

Other critics say supplementing the college’s internationalism pillar may further marginalize multiculturalism’s status.

“There’s been a history of people at the college that think that the college hasn’t shown the same level of commitment to multiculturalism as it has to internationalism,” said Clay Steinman, a Humanities and Media and Cultural Studies professor.

Hiring Rhodes and Lewis “was a serious move toward addressing that balance,” he said. But, “if the center is not balanced, then once again, we’ll be back to where we were.”

Rhodes, who arrived on campus as the makeup of the Institute was just being completed, said while she was not upset with the structure, multiculturalism’s future presence in the Institute, and other parts of the college, is not clear.

“The college has invested an enormous amount of energy and resources into international studies,” she said. “The question now is, are the same investments going to be put in to multiculturalism.”

The issue of transparency and open discussion concerning the Institute has irked many, as some faculty members criticized their low level of input allowed in the process. By excluding faculty from the initial planning, some say the college disregarded valuable community connections cultivated by its professors.

History professor Peter Weisensel called the closed process “troublesome,” but said he understands why it happened.

“The president has executive authority, and he can override a lot of things for what he thinks needs to be done,” Weisensel said. “It’s nice to always be consulted, but when you’re in charge and make the decision, are you going to drag the whole process out when something needs to be done now?”

Samatar and Latham emphasized the multiple opportunities students and faculty had to raise comments and questions. They say shaping the Institute’s resources will continue to be flexible and open to input.

Rosenberg, in a later interview, said that relevant decisions for the Institute will be decided by the faculty. “What has been created to date is simply an administrative unit,” he said. “Nothing that falls within the purview of the faculty will fail to go through the appropriate faculty processes.”

Aware of the criticism and concerns of the faculty, Rosenberg said he hoped that the initiation of the Institute would help to alleviate any existing anger. “I really think the root of the struggle is over what the mission activities programs, priorities of this will be, and, as I keep saying to people, we need to start it to give it a chance to let it evolve,” he said.

Further, Rosenberg said he hoped the Institute would help to bridge some of the gaps between the so-called pillars of the college, as highlighted in the mission statement. “There’s not nearly enough symbiotic relationship among all three of those parts of the mission,” he said. “We need to think of them in different ways.”

As for the unease of many students, Samatar urged patience.

“Students must understand that this is not something to yield full fruit immediately,” he said. “It’s a long-term project, and like a great wine, it will have to be aged a bit.

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