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Updated 4:00 PM January 27, 2004



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Students look for more education, dialogue on civil rights issues

While significant steps have been made to meet the goals of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, the nation and the University still have a long way to go before those dreams become reality, said some of the students who participated in an MLK Symposium event.

"U-M was my first experience with diversity," said Takisha LaShore, community coordinator for the Michigan Community Scholars Program (MCSP) and U-M alumna. "I didn't understand the impact MLK had on me until I got here."

This is a frustrating reality for those who grew up supporting the movement, said some of the participants in the Jan. 19 MCSP discussion, "Our Stories: Reflections on Life, Community and Education after Brown v. Board of Education."

"It was a time of tremendous hope," said David Schoem, faculty director of MCSP. "I'm still shocked that 40-50 years later we're not so much further ahead."

For some, coming to U-M was a step away from the diversity and racial interaction they were used to in their high schools and communities.

"Coming here I thought it was very segregated, and there was a silent racial tension I wasn't used to," said Rachel Robbins, an LSA junior.

The trend toward racial separation extends beyond the student body and into the administration and faculty, said Jim Crowfoot, professor emeritus in the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

"My experience with faculty is more characterized by separation than unity," Crowfoot said. "It is certainly more racially diverse than when I went to school here, but it still has a long way to go."

Almost all of the participants agreed that more education is key to continuing civil rights progress, especially because students today are removed from emotions and events of the movement by generations.

"No one was there to open my eyes as to what MLK Day means," LaShore said. "Most people go through life unaware that it needs to be passed on to younger generations."

Many participants agreed that dialogue is the best tool for creating an understanding of race relations as they exist currently, and for fostering an environment in which further improvements can take place.

"Dialogues like this are pivotal to furthering civil rights," Robbins said. "It has to be okay to talk about race from a young age."

Crowfoot went one step further, putting the future into perspective for those present.

"I'd like there to be more conversation about how the world we are moving into is going to be so different from the last 50-100 years," he said. "We all know this is going to be a less dominantly Caucasian country in your lifetime and your children's lifetime."

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