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

Beyond the “ism du jour”

By Tinbete Ermyas

I have to admit it, I’m a fan of tough conversations. So it’s no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed the talk that took place last Wednesday in the Cultural House entitled “Internationalism & Multiculturalism: Overlaps and Omissions.” I was really proud of everyone for being willing to share their views, their personal stories, and their concerns about both isms in an open environment.

But for me the conversation and dialogue didn’t end at the Cultural House. I wanted to talk with anyone and everyone about the issues of internationalism and multiculturalism at Macalester.

And when I brought it up to an acquaintance of mine, I was challenged: “No offense, Tinbete, but both internationalism and multiculturalism are in the same level here at Mac; if not now, then in the future. I don’t get the conflict. Seriously.”

Now that was a tough conversation I wasn’t ready to have, but I’m glad he was real with me. Seriously.

The truth that I had to admit was that on a superficial level, both multiculturalism and internationalism are on equal footing here at Macalester. I mean, both have their own spaces at Macalester, both have curricula that address issues pertinent to each, and both have a part of the Macalester mission statement that states they are important pillars that hold this institution up equally.

So if all of this is true, then why is discussion so tense at moments and why are many students at Macalester frustrated with the way that both are practiced here at Mac?

But in order for me to think about these questions, I have to look farther than issues in defining and practicing multiculturalism and internationalism at Macalester today. I have to challenge myself to think about the future, about the ways in which both can exist at Macalester without trying to be the ism du jour, vying for the attention of the administration.

Luckily, right around the time I was thinking about the future relationship of internationalism and multiculturalism at Macalester, Thomas Friedman was giving his lecture for the Institute for Global Citizenship. And seriously, I’ll have to admit that was a challenging space. Though I wanted to believe Friedman’s assertion that the world is becoming more “flat” or accessible to more and more people around the world, I am reluctant to believe it is that easy.

Sure, the world has become more transnational with each passing day, but does that mean that the not-so-flat world that we are leaving behind doesn’t have implications on the ways we will act in the supposed newer, flatter world? Seriously, think about it.

I suppose the theory of flattening can be said for the future of multiculturalism and internationalism at Macalester with the emergence of the Institute and the structural changes that are currently occurring.

However, both isms have different histories at Macalester. And I personally believe that depending on the situation, either of these isms will be privileged over another without second thought.

One conversation I think needs to occur on campus is how the favoritism that some people play with the isms is going to effect the supposed flattening of the world and of Macalester.

Okay, so the College, in the future, hopes to treat multiculturalism and internationalism equally. Does it mean that just because both are institutionalized, they will automatically have a peaceful co-existence? Does it mean that both are inherently treated equally? Is it merely all an issue of access like Friedman suggests, or is it deeper than that? I think so. But that’s just me.

I personally believe that members of the Macalester community have to be honest with one another. Sometimes someone might have an “ism du jour” and prefer one over the other from time to time. That’s fine, as long as you admit it.

But just because one denotes both as equal doesn’t mean that this will magically occur in practice.

And I know these are tough conversations to have, but they are necessary to have if we really want any hope of Macalester staying true to two of its most important pillars. Seriously.

Tinbete Ermyas ’08 is the main contributor to the “From the Margin to the Center” Column for The Mac Weekly Opinion Section. Contact him at [email protected].

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