By Laura Ingalls
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The 21st century university must become color blind, instead focusing on cultural attributes of people, said Dr. Manning Marable, the director of Columbia University's Institute for Research in African American Studies.
"We should agree to color blindness and the elimination of racial superiority as the justifying center for black discrimination," said Marable, who teaches history and political science at Columbia.
Marable told the audience of about 120 students and faculty in the Arizona Ballroom yesterday that the university is key to building an multicultural democracy.
Land grant universities, like the University of Arizona, are responsible for supporting democratic ideals by fostering multiculturalism in education on campus, Marable said.
Increased university emphasis on multicultural studies is key because the American minority population is projected to engulf the white majority by the year 2056, he said. At the same time, trends show a decline in the number of minority students attending college between the ages of 18 and 26.
The university of the 21st century must go beyond merely offering cultural and racial studies as many institutions did in the 1980s, Marable said. Instead, he challenged the audience to retool diversity as something that unites people in a common exploration into each other's racial and ethnic backgrounds.
"Diversity should not tear people apart. Rather, we should learn from each other if we have the intellectual courage to do so," Marable said.
He also suggested that the university move minority faculty positions to more powerful, central roles in the educational establishment. In the past, diversity has been relegated to the margins of the university in the forms of isolated minority studies programs and cultural centers, Marable said.
Marable's ideas about restructuring university curriculum and faculty selection come amidst the university's attempt to define new general education requirements.
Making diversity studies a priority in every department will make students and faculty realize diversity is a unifying instead of divisive force, he said. Also, he suggested the university financially plan to train and support faculty in future multicultural education and programming.
Multiculturalism in the 21st century means debunking stereotypes and racial boundaries while preserving one's culture, he said.
Discrimination has become more covert since the civil rights movement began, Marable said.
He cited a study that sent car buyers of equal economic status but different in race and gender to buy a car. The study found that minorities, especially minority women, are more likely to pay the maximum price for a car.
"Racial prejudice is an invisible tax . It continues to be a burden on democracy in our society today," he said.
At a speech earlier in the day, Marable discussed minority presence in U.S. universities.
Marable said that while some U.S. universities have increased the number of minorities admitted, retention rates are down.
This year, 587 Hispanic students, 111 African American students, 267 Asian American students and 123 Native American students were admitted to the university this year as freshmen. Minorities account for 23.23 percent, or 4,481 of the 35,306 students on the UA campus. Minority graduation rates, including bachelor and professional degrees, have risen overall for the past five years.
"Retention is a major problem, and ours is no exception," said Jesse Hargrove, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center. "It's going to take mechanisms devised by caring and concerned deans that will yield higher retention rates."
Hargrove agreed that departments on campus need to increase retention rates as well as discussion of diversity on campus and in communities surrounding the campus.
"It was a breath of fresh air. And we need these types of discussions to continue," Hargrove said.
Wildcat reporter Joseph Barrios contributed to this story.
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