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Tuesday October 10, 2000

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Being aware of awareness weeks

By The Wildcat Opinions Board

Historically- and socially-underrepresented groups are out in the spotlight this week at the UA, as activities in observation of Native American Recognition Week, Coming Out Week, and the federally-sponsored "Campus Week of Dialogue" on race relations occur simultaneously.

However, in the midst of all the awareness, one must remember that these weeks are not merely five-day-long lip service sessions on how and when to be politically correct. People should take advantage of this week and do more than just munch on some frybread while affixing pink triangle stickers to their notebooks.

Members of the University of Arizona community need to make every effort to become more aware of the other groups they share the world with.

Yesterday was Columbus Day. But how many people have ever asked an American Indian what he or she thinks of this holiday? Yesterday, also the first day of Native American Recognition Week, would have been a good time to ask.

How many heterosexuals are aware of the emotional turmoil of coming out of the closet to one's parents? This week would be a good time to ask a gay peer what he or she has gone through.

How many people have been victims of hate crimes or discrimination because of the color of their skin? Now would be a good time to ask a minority what he or she experiences in "white" America - where racism exists even though minorities are beginning to outnumber Caucasians in some places.

It is all too easy to bow one's head in absolvement of injustices committed against anybody who is not a straight white male, then carry on for 51 more weeks like nothing more is necessary.

But so much more is needed. Education and communication are vital.

Leaders in the cultural programs around campus admit that people from different backgrounds exist all year, but setting aside specific blocks of time for education is helpful in driving home the cause of awareness-building.

"(The) campus community has many opportunities to honor and recognize the cultural diversity," said Karen Francis-Begay, director of UA's Native American Student Affairs. "The important message is, however, it's good to have a time and place for this type of celebration."

In the past, people have made mockeries of awareness weeks, sending their friends through the symbolic door erected on the UA Mall for Coming Out Day on dares. Immaturity like this hinders the possibility of any real dialogue occurring, though, instead dragging the focus to why awareness weeks are here in the first place - to reduce ignorance.

Though it is true that awareness weeks and months exist for seemingly everything, from National Dog Week (Sept. 24-30) to National Cookie Month (October), education such as that being offered this week is no less important. Celebrating pets and baked goods alongside racism and homophobia could make it easy to trivialize the importance of awareness activities, but people should nonetheless keep an open mind. Talk to one another. And listen.