Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Who you calling white? 

It's beautiful here today in St. Cloud; spring full of redolent flowering trees, though bad for my allergies, is always a happy sign. And with students graduated and gone and my grades turned in, it's a nice time to be here. As things are slowing down, I'll have time to dig through some things I've said "this must be blogged some day", like more tales of union chutzpah, or a where are they now? of former litigants against SCSU (think of it as "the second season"). (Arie, we haven't forgotten you yet.)

For the moment, however, consider the following paragraph from our Priority Strategic Goals:

The campus data system suggests that SCSU has increased faculty of color representation from 10% to 14.5% and the international student population from 450 to 900 students during the past 8 years. The campus has also hired a fair number of persons of color to serve in leadership positions, most notably the institution�s president. Retention and representation, however, continues to be an issue for the campus. On average, retention of students of color (63%) lags that of majority white students (73%). Student of color graduation rates also lag majority white students (29% vs. 40%, 1995 IPEDS 6 Year Graduation Rates). Further, student of color representation is primarily Asian, with Asian students accounting for over half of all students of color. Student of color representation (excluding white international students) is approximately 6% of the total campus body, which is 4% below the average student of color participation in the State of Minnesota (source: HESO, 2003). Faculty and staff of color are also primarily Asian and concentrated in faculty and high-level administrative positions. Additionally, faculties of color tend to be represented in only certain departments (such as BCIS, Engineering and Computer Science). Broader racial representation is needed across campus, across disciplines and across types of positions.
Those strikethroughs were inserted by the Faculty Senate last week at the suggestion of the Committee on Diversity Education. I find this very odd, to use a term that was used in the apartheid era in South Africa to designate some areas. The problem is that it mixes a lot of different people. I remember being called a "black ass" in Russian by a Ukrainian cop when I lived in Kyiv in 1996. In a sense he was right -- if you had the extreme misfortune to view my naked tush, you would hesitate to use the word "white" in your description of it. (You can guess which one is me in the picture.) Yet I am being classified as "white". To call me a member of the "majority" ... majority what? Race? Culture? The latter I could see, but it's unclear where one goes with the tag from there.

And of course it's also an issue what we mean by faculty and staff of color, for they come in all different shapes and sizes. Immigrant blacks are not buying into the racial politics of American blacks (see also this essay by D.C. Thornton), and this wonderful letter to The Volokh Conspiracy argues persuasively against defining literature of color. But, here in the land of flowers and fading fads, we'll be behind the times for a while to come.