By Keren G. Raz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 24, 2004
Students like to complain about the unfairness of affirmative action or quotas.
They like to talk about how tortilla flinging has nothing to do with stereotypes because they're not prejudiced in that way.
But what they don't like to do is take a hard look at their own actions.
It's about time they did.
Segregation is a problem on campus, and the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of students.
Visit a fraternity house, and you'll only see white guys unless you decide to visit a multicultural fraternity, an all-black fraternity, or an Asian fraternity, in which case you will find mostly minority guys.
Pass through the union at lunch and you will see groups of African Americans together, groups of Mexican Americans, and groups of whites. Rarely will you see them mixed together.
Our campus has a decent amount of diversity. We are 14 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, 3 percent African American.
Undoubtedly those numbers can and will improve, but at this point we are so segregated, diversity seems meaningless because we're still not learning to live with those who are different from us.
During the civil rights movement, segregation took center stage because it justified the denial of rights and opportunities to African Americans.
Some might say that segregation on campus now is less of a problem because it's a choice. After all, people like to hang out with those who look like themselves.
But at what point is our choice to associate with people like ourselves a result of the prejudice within us that we fail to recognize?
When I stopped by the Writing on the Wall project to see what the controversy was all about, someone from the Residence Hall Association explained to me that the goal of the wall is to show the UA campus that it can eliminate stereotypes and erase prejudices.
If only things were that simple.
The reality is that people naturally judge, stereotype and form biases in their minds, especially when they don't associate themselves with the people they tend to judge.
You can make people aware of stereotypes formed against Arabs, but that won't stop them from fearing the Arab sitting next to them on the plane.
You can tell people not to call sorority girls sluts, but if they aren't friends with sorority girls, they'll think it anyway.
Too often, students let each other get away with simply talking about diversity and the need to eliminate stereotypes and prejudices.
They let each other get away with talking about how they don't judge simply because they are careful to use politically correct speech.
But they only talk, and talk is cheap.
Here's what I mean: I asked some of the people who put the wall together a few questions to see if their actions would show they lived diversity rather than talked it.
One white girl's answers were telling: "Have you ever visited the African American cultural center?"
"The Hispanic center?"
"The Asian American center?"
And there I found the truth, at the UA students like to talk about diversity, but few people really live it.
Just ask yourself: Have you ever visited the African American center?
The Hispanic center?
The Asian American center?
How many of your friends are the same color?
Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous speech 41 years ago, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
Imagine if he said this instead: "I have a dream that someday blacks and whites will be segregated by choice, but people will talk about how they respect each other."
Would anyone have taken him seriously?
Then why are we taking our talk so seriously when it's backed up by segregation and not action?
Yesterday administrators, students and community members applauded each other when they tore down the wall of stereotypes.
They clapped because, as Paty Gonzalez, an RHA officer told me, "(The wall) is a step in the right direction."
No, it's not a step yet.
The wall was simply an idea in the right direction.
A step would be for us to stop talking diversity, and for us to start living it.
And that'll only happen the day you can find whites in the African American center, Hispanics in traditionally white fraternities and Asians in the Hispanic-Chicano Center.
So to all those who spent hours putting together the wall, my advice to you: Your idea was a good one, but it needs the backing of individual action.
Stop talking diversity; start going outside your comfort zone to start living it.
Keren G. Raz is a political science and English senior. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.