October 31, 2014

Colleges & Universities must enter the fight for Racial equity

I entered college in the late 1960s at a time of great civil unrest. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed, Lyndon Johnson had announced that he would not seek re-election and our cities were exploding with racial discontent. Despite what looked like total despair from the outside, there was still this promise of hope-that America would get it right this time and create this multiracial democracy that would include all of us; that surely the civil rights era would be the time when racial equality would become a reality.

Blacks were entering college in record numbers after the passage of Civil rights legislation and the Higher Education Acts. Social programs were expanded. Government spending for training and jobs increased. Although discrimination continued, these advances were significant. Equally as important were the “intangibles.” The consciousness of not just African-Americans but other people of color, and millions of whites had substantially changed.

As a result I thought I had a legitimate reason to believe that in my lifetime I would be able to sit under the tree of racial equality and that our colleges and universities would lead the way. As I grew older I hoped that in my son’s lifetime that he would be able to sit under that same tree. Now I’m not at all convinced that my grandson will find shelter under that tree either.

Will we someday create a multiracial democracy that truly represents all of us? What role will our colleges and universities play? Will they continue to sit on the sidelines aloof from tackling the real social problems that continue to plague us; or will they get in the ring and go toe to toe with injustice, racial disparities and give meaning to the pledge: one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all? Those questions are just as important today as they were 45 years ago. I realize that we have powerful forces wedded to the status quo and that’s why I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime. My life and my generation’s lives are still needed to plant seeds so that some future generation will be able to bask in the shade. I understand that now.

But I also understand that change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We have to fight for change and we need our institutions of higher education to enjoin this fight and make the goal of social justice their clarion call too. Our great academic institutions are charged with “educating” millions of college students annually. Just imagine if they graduated these students with a passion for correcting inequities instead of replicating them.

That was my hope 45 years ago and unless these institutions undergo a radical shift I’m afraid it will be my grandson’s hope 45 years from now.


Why your campus should consider a Multicultural Retreat


Lake Minnewaska Trail — Minnewaska State Park, New York.
Photo by Doug Kerr.
Great friendships have started by the lake

A multicultural retreat is a structured activity which allows White and ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) students an opportunity to explore racial and cultural issues in a secluded setting that is free of major distractions.

Participants who generally do not know each other are asked to spend two to three days away from campus eating, rooming and working together. Participants are asked to submerge themselves in learning about ALANA cultures. Because of the time they are required to spend together, participants eventually ‘drop their guard’ and allow their ‘true’ feelings to surface. A seasoned facilitator will not only move this process along, s/he will also create an atmosphere where honest disclosure is expected.

During the retreat participants are able to discuss, debate, and contribute in ways that may help them discover, share, and broaden their awareness of themselves in relationship to the multicultural world at large. Activities, speakers and discussion groups focus on objectives which are designed to ensure that the experience participants are exposed to, challenge their beliefs, confront their values and require some type of follow up action.

A cultural retreat is designed to be informational and educational. Three aspects of culture are presented on each ALANA group that is featured. 1) The cultural contributions-music, dance, art, etc., 2) problems the group faces in contemporary American society, and 3) the group’s U.S. and world history. The intent is to provide participants a context in which to understand the issues impacting a particular ethnic group.

The retreat experience is not designed to be complacent. It is dynamic and at times confrontational. However, as a result of such discourse, a certain bonding often takes place between participants. A sense of community among the participants frequently occurs. This process of permitting oneself to be vulnerable and open to new ideas often gives one an insight that results in increased cultural awareness.

Comments like, “I had no idea…,” are common during and after the retreat. Even the free time serves an important purpose during the retreat because participants are required to spend half of it with someone of a different “racial” group. When you consider the cultural activities, ethnic speakers and the great outdoors, all these things contribute to making the retreat an effective human relations experience.

I’ve witnessed firsthand how retreats have transformed lives and led to long-term friendships. Here’s a letter I received from a participant many years ago. [Read More...]



  1. DO be aware of your own position of privilege, as described by Peggy McIntosh in this article: http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html
  2. DO create, promote, and encourage multicultural/identity awareness programming and activities in your classrooms/residence halls/departments.
  3. DO aspire toward equity: to treat all of your students/residents/colleagues what THEY will perceive as decent and respectful.
  4. DO learn the correct pronunciations of the names of your students/residents/colleagues.
  5. DO ask questions and DO research to learn about communication/lifestyles of your diverse residents.
  6. DO create programming that shows an awareness of the multiple identities embraced by your students/residents/colleagues.
  7. DO take advantage of the many opportunities on and off campus to experience diversity and inclusion.
  8. DO promote inclusivity, awareness, and understanding with words as well as with actions and beliefs!
  9. DO consider diversity as a responsibility as well as an opportunity!
  10. DO understand that this work can be tough, but it can also be quite rewarding! [Read More...]