Dialogue and admissions of guilt need to be coupled with community engagement

By Elliot Ward

If the real problem with the “politically incorrect” party is not individual action, horrible as it may be, but its indication of a deeper, school-wide complacency and misunderstanding of race issues, then the solution should not simply be dialogue and apology—it should be an attempt to foster long term change. As memory of the event begins to fade, and students who were involved begin to leave campus, our dialogue will scarcely be remembered. What Macalester needs is the formation of annually funded programs tailored to building a culture of increased racial awareness. We are faced with a systemic problem affecting this country, and its higher education system, far beyond the confines of Macalester. To address it requires confronting Macalester’s place in a culture where racism is an everyday concern. Macalester is distanced from this everyday reality in its distance and disengagement with its local community. This is the most egregious form of elitism.
Need-blind isn’t the only economic elitism we are faced with. We see Midway, a vibrant community only blocks away, as just a place to shop. Our obsession with becoming a “non-ivy” Ivy is elitist not only in its desire for prestige but for its neglect of our community responsibility. As we build our tower higher with the hopes of seeing to the east coast we remove ourselves from the reality of our local existence. The Twin Cities have been touted time and again as a resource, its amazing racial and ethnic diversity paraded before our intellects as a testament to the unique diversity we should all be proud to be a part of—all without actual engagement.
We must not only embrace our failures, as President Rosenberg says; we must embrace our local community. We should be looking to found regular internship programs with community action groups, fund joint research projects with urban planning organizations on the topic of race, build classes with community engagement requirements, tailor student employment opportunities that let students confront race in the community instead of sit bored at desks, develop departmental action groups which facilitate discipline based race projects. These are just the things I could think of off the top of my head; I’m sure with a little thought and collaboration more informed people can come up with better ones, and implement them. I’m not saying these things don’t happen now, but that they should be institutionalized. Everyone should know their names and they should get annual funding. What is the Institute for Global Citizenship but a visible testament to our claimed mission? We need an Institute for Local Citizenship.
Macalester should not just reach out—it should bring in. Macalester should be a resource and an ally for community groups. It should be a regular thing to see events like the recent civil disobedience training for janitors. Any contact with local organizations, even if they’re just here for weekly meetings, will tighten the bond between school and community. Creating programs which will permanently engage Macalester will leave a legacy that will ensure students confront issues of race once the memory of this event has faded into the past. With the leverage recent events give to students and faculty, there should be few obstacles preventing such programs from being enacted. I challenge MCSG, BLAC and any other student groups interested in change to come up with a program and present it to the administration. While we can all come together over discussion, our solidarity and vision will speak loudest if we have a concrete demand we can all rally behind.