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That elusive academic utopiathe multicultural universitywas the subject of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Symposium panel discussion last Monday in Rackham Amphitheater.
June M. Howard, associate professor of English and director of the American Culture Program, noted that multiculturalism, while gradually being integrated into various curricula, will be fully achieved only if we beware of exoticizing other cultures while maintaining tolerance, and addressing racism and inequality.
Also, we need to think in terms of the intercultural. If we talk only about what divides us, then we will remain divided, she said.
Michael Awkward, director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, cautioned that the multicultural university will never emerge if it is wedded to political correctness. Instead, the university should welcome the contest of ideas rather than urging blind assimilation in the move towards cultural justice.
Many faculty see multiculturalism as a fragmenting force, Awkward explained. If we just ridicule those fears, we lose the power to persuade, argue and respond intellectually to them. A high volume Firing Line sort of discussion of the issue is entertaining but it doesnt move multiculturalism forward, he said.
Taylor Cox, professor of business administration and founder of a firm that offers consulting services on managing diversity in the workplace, added that in the multicultural university, valuing diversity will be a norm, and plurality will be more important than assimilation.
We also need to conduct research that goes beyond a head count, to determine what is and what is not working in the struggle for multiculturalism, he said.
Harry H. Kitano, professor of social welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, added that academics still tend to cling to the white, European belief system model and dismiss the belief systems of other cultures. However, he said, we need to understand those other systems and how they affect behavior.
Caryn McTighe Musil, associate director, American Commitment Project, Association of American Colleges, compared the American experience to a book of myths that told complex, messy, rich, diverse and often tragic stories. But over the years, she said, academia has edited the book and standardized it. Now we need to recover the pastAmerica has always been diverse.