We would like to extend our warmest thanks to Nate Whittaker for writing an op-ed that connects the efforts of Whose Diversity? and the efforts of student activists before us, including those who took over Morrill Hall on May 4, 2005 to protest the closing of General College. Nate is a General College, CCE, and CEHD alumnus and founder of the General College Truth Movement. Our sit-in on February 9 was very much inspired by the efforts of the General College Truth Movement, and we are indebted to them for the resources and knowledge they left behind that allowed us to plan the sit-in and continue the struggle for a more just University. An edited version of his letter was published by the Minnesota Daily on February 24 and 25. We are excited to share the original version of his op-ed, after the cut.
I wrote those exact same words in the MN Daily in 2005 except I wasn’t talking about members of Whose Diversity? I was writing about those enmeshed in the struggle to save the General College (GC). Over and over, current administrators have said these issues “take time.”
Exactly ten years ago, the General College Truth Movement (GCTM) engaged in similar discourse and actions as Whose Diversity? In 2005, President Robert Bruininks and his administration announced their desire to become a top-ten public research university. Ostensibly, Bruininks believed GC (who by and large served underrepresented students) was an obstruction to that goal. An elite private ad hoc committee wrote the “strategic positioning” report that recommended closing GC and set-off mass protest throughout campus.
There was a take-over of Morrill Hall on May 4, 2005. University police arrested nine GCTM members. Two students were pepper-sprayed. There were trumped-up “obstructing legal process” charges against a union president who condemned police brutality.
But “this takes time,” they say. How much time? Recent protests are a direct consequence of continued apathy, micro-aggressions, and an unreserved denial by the Administration (and others) to value the narrative of underrepresented students, still. Diversity dialogues, failed assurances, and campus climate proceedings are not enough. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.
It’s clear. Many in this administration are out of touch with the weight of the equity and diversity issues they extol. In a speech to the North Hennepin Area Chamber of Commerce on November 13, 2014 President Kaler stated, “I want to speak about serious matters – from student debt to how we seek to tackle some of the state’s and world’s grand challenges – from widespread hunger to the inexcusable achievement gap in our schools. But, I do need to put first things first…. What about Floyd of Rosedale!”
Floyd of Rosedale? First things, first? A pig? I guarantee many underrepresented and first-generation students do not share the president’s “gopher pride.” Their commitment is with community, family, and navigating those same “grand challenges.”
It’s time to cease being economical with the truth, particularly around TRIO and the closing of Post-Secondary Teaching & Learning (PSTL) – a department shaped by former faculty of GC (how amazing history repeats itself). President Kaler’s February 9th erroneous response to the issue was out of touch. It is misleading and ambiguous to say, “there is NO plan to alter our support for the TRIO students in our college.”
TRIO is a nationwide Civil Rights legacy program that admits 150 new low-income, first-generation, students with disabilities and immigrant students to the U each year. There are over 600 TRIO students on campus. TRIO students belong at the U. Some of the highest retention rates for 2013 first-year students were TRIO students – all whom benefited greatly from PSTL courses (both rigorous and particularly suited for underrepresented students due to the instructors’ commitment to innovative approaches to teaching and learning). What PSTL does is not a duplication of CLA’s general coursework nor can faculty duplicate it without roots in this type of curriculum. PSTL faculty have a well-researched pedagogy that positively impacts our most diverse students.
The closing of PSTL and the administration’s reasoning follows the same typical response (by the privileged) to attack the bodies that do the actual work, only to replace it with “great ideas” by “leaders” whose paradigm comes from a place of privilege. When the academic readiness gap between TRIO students and their more privileged peers continues to grow, the impact could be sobering. The underpinning of their academic programming is being abolished and influential PSTL instructors are being reallocated throughout the institution (if they don’t leave first).
The administration should value the actions by Whose Diversity? You cannot praise the triumphs by Civil Rights activists, and co-opt the history of the 1969 Morrill Hall takeover, while simultaneously demonizing today’s activists. You cannot eradicate racial and economic privilege without giving something up.
The demands by Whose Diversity? are crucial - a prolongation of demands made before: demands by women suffrage rights activists at the University in the 20’s; demands made by the Afro-American Action Committee in 1969; demands of Chicano students who occupied Morrill Hall in 1971; demands made after a 1990 executive investigation of campus-climate that led to the establishment of GLBT Studies; and, demands indistinguishable from those of the General College Truth Movement.
No more rhetoric. No more “cosmetic diversity.” Time is up!