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Campus initiatives to foster diversity education

James D. Anderson, professor, educational policy studies
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced today that it will develop and sponsor a yearlong campuswide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation case as well as create a Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society.

Chancellor Nancy Cantor has recommended, in consultation with the campus Diversity Initiatives Committee, that these and a number of other ideas the committee proposed be fulfilled. The committee was created in November 2000 by Michael Aiken, who was chancellor at that time, and Richard Herman, the provost. Cantor has made clear since she began her tenure in August 2001 that all work of the university is informed by and enriched by diversity, and that through the sharing of diverse life experiences, perspectives and expectations, the campus creates an enriched learning environment.

"Brown vs. Board of Education was a civil rights milestone with a legacy of extraordinary breadth and depth," Cantor said today. "The Brown case began with a focus on racial segregation and desegregation in schools. As such, it set the precedent for talking about equal opportunity among all areas in educational settings. It redefined the meaning of racial equality in America and opened the way to protect many Americans from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, language and disability."

At the middle of the 20th century, 17 states had legally mandated segregated school systems, 1 percent of all Ph.D.s were awarded to women, and discrimination against special education students, female students, students with disabilities, and students who did not speak English as their native language was commonplace.

The Brown decision prompted such milestones as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title IX, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

During the past 50 years, equal educational opportunity for all Americans has been premised on the Brown decision. The Urbana campus has been a leader in many of the reforms prompted by the Brown decision, including desegregation, special education, rehabilitation education and services, gender equity and bilingual education.

"Our commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision will serve as a catalyst for critical reflection on our nation’s capacity to serve all children," Cantor said. "Celebrating the anniversary of this historic Supreme Court case will serve to illuminate our continuing exploration of diversity in American life."

The new interdisciplinary Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society would be one of the first of its kind in the United States to focus on the juncture between democracy and a multiracial society. "The center will explore the dynamic interactions between race and society and how they affect democratic institutions," Cantor said. "The untrod territory of combining democracy and a multiracial society is what makes the center unique and brings in faculty from a wide range of disciplines and professional schools across campus. It will draw from the interdisciplinary energy of the campus."

The center will foster research and bring to campus scholars, policy-makers and the public to debate and exchange ideas about social justice. The center also will serve to educate, through training and workshops on racial and ethnic justice.

The center is needed, according to the subcommittee proposal that recommends it, because of continuing racial and ethnic conflict and discrimination, and demographic changes making the nation even more diverse.

"At the very least, increasing ethnic and racial diversity represents a major challenge facing our democracy today in politics, schools, colleges, communities and workplaces," the proposal says.

As evidence of that trend, the proposal notes that European Americans are now a minority in many of the nation’s largest cities, including Chicago, and in three states. A number of other states, including Illinois, are likely to follow that trend during the next 40 years, and European Americans could be a minority in the United States by 2055.

In connection with the center, the committee’s recommendations include:

orange dot Creating undergraduate research opportunities to study issues of racial and ethnic cooperation and conflict, as well as funding of postdoctoral scholars.

orange dot Developing a repository of research and information on issues of race, ethnicity and social justice, along with Web sites that make the center’s work available to a wider audience.

orange dot Organizing workshops and institutes to offer intensive learning experiences for educators and others dealing with increasing diversity.

orange dot Sponsoring conferences, on and off campus, on specific racial-ethnic issues.

The yearlong commemoration of Brown vs. the Board of Education will take place during the 2003-2004 academic year; planning for the commemoration will begin immediately with the appointment of a campus committee.

The anniversary provides "a rich opportunity to acknowledge the broad and deep impact of Brown on equality and diversity" and to engage in "dialogue about the current state of equal educational opportunity and civil and political equality for all Americans," the subcommittee that drew up the commemoration proposal said.

The commemoration, which would begin with freshman convocation in 2003 and end with commencement in 2004, would provide an opportunity in between for every unit on campus to have a role.

The two initiatives, proposing the center and the Brown commemoration, were among ideas put forth by the Diversity Initiatives Committee. Among other ideas the committee proposed:

orange dot Greatly expanding partnerships with historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges to recruit students into graduate programs.

orange dot Increasing campus engagement in problem-solving efforts in the Champaign-Urbana community, by developing courses or immersion experiences to familiarize faculty members with community issues and key community people.

orange dot Creating a fund that would go toward accommodating employees with disabilities.

orange dot Increasing diversity in the hiring of academic professionals, particularly in central and campus administration.

orange dot Maintaining commitment to hiring and maintaining permanent directors for the Asian-American, Latina/Latino, Afro-American and Women’s studies programs, and to consider granting these units faculty positions that they control.

orange dot Establishing a lecture program to bring faculty members from minority-serving institutions to the UI campus.

orange dot Ensuring that teaching workshops and orientation programs for faculty, staff and graduate students with assistantships include content related to diversity.

orange dot Increasing fellowship funds for underrepresented minority graduate students and for female graduate students in areas where they are underrepresented.

orange dot Identifying a development officer at the Urbana campus to deal specifically with diversity issues.

orange dot Increasing efforts to recruit and retain faculty in targeted areas.

orange dot Planning activities and a memorial to celebrate Project 500 as an important part of the campus’s history.

Thirty-three people – faculty, staff and students – serve on the initiatives committee, chaired by professor James D. Anderson, the head of the educational policy studies department. Its work focuses on four areas: preparing students for a diverse workplace; recruiting and retaining students, faculty members and staff from sectors of the population that do not, in large numbers, view Illinois as a place to study and to work; creating a campus climate that values the contributions of all members of the Illinois community; and broadening the opportunity for Illinois to foster learning, discovery and engagement through diversity.

The committee is expected to issue its report by the end of the current academic year.