Racial Minorities Vs Majorities

I really enjoyed reading the articles this week about Native Americans in higher education, especially in light of having talked to Bently Spang this week. One that I read in particular, “Indians Teaching About Indigenous” by James Fenelon, raised some interesting questions for me about minorities in our country and got me thinking about it the last few days. First, James’ difficult search to find a university where he could publish and teach about his theory of “culturicide” was pretty surprising. For me, that proved that our country’s universities truly do censor their work and image and are not necessarily willing to face difficult issues involving race or our history’s past faults. It seems like an unfair system, since teachers looking for jobs must put forth fresh, stimulating work, but also make sure it aligns with the university’s values. Thus, a lot of work that is controversial will most likely not be accepted. In a way it seems hypocritical to many of these universities who heavily promote diversity and their open, “accepting” environments.

Fenelon also discussed the processes he faced through being hired as a minority. He had to apply through three different perspectives- American Indian program hire, minority faculty search, and mainline hire. While the American Indian hire did not work for other reasons, the minority hire claimed that they wanted a “major” racial majority instead. The mainline job said they were worried about his fit. This system is shocking to me. I don’t understand why there needs to be different programs to hire people and why people cannot be hired based off of their own merit instead of race. I’m not sure that if this was the system that there would be fewer minority hires because they weren’t as qualified. And then, if a minority was hired, wouldn’t it be based off of wanting more diversity instead of qualifications? I’m not sure this is the case. I’m curious if whether by having minority hire programs it motivates minorities who already feel marginalized that they have a chance for employment up against the majority when they would otherwise lose hope? This kind of applies to affirmative action in colleges too. I’m not sure what to make of all of this and how to answer my own questions-it’s a touchy subject for many people to talk about too. It seems to only further racial separation in professional settings by setting minorities apart from the majority. I’m curious if anyone has strong opinions on this subject?

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3 Responses to Racial Minorities Vs Majorities

  1. a_reyes says:

    Julia, all fascinating questions indeed. What are the merits of university programs that aim to diversify the makeup of the faculty and student body? What are the unintended consequences? Are they even worth it? Honestly, I think these programs are a double-edge sword for both the college admission process and the hiring process that cannot be allowed to outlive their purpose. Initially, I think affirmative action programs are necessary in order to incorporate diverse perfectives into extremely bigoted institutions such as the Jim Crow laws. With interaction and time people would come to recognize their shared humanity. But, eventually not only are quotas divisive amongst peers, they can also limit the spots available to minority applicants in the long run. And as Fenelon demonstrates they can also be used to maintain a hegemonic curriculum.

    Firstly, I don’t think its appropriate to assume that if a minority candidate received a spot within an institution they are somehow less qualified for the position. But that’s what these programs do; they diminish the achievements and perspectives of those it sought to help. Say for example that an admission office has a quota for minority students and receives to many highly qualified minority applicants, what happens when they hit their mark? Also, I think its wrong to say that only racial minorities can bring diverse perspectives, we all do.

    I seems that if selection procedures were truly competitive and innovative, it could creative a more responsive curriculum in academia and ensure that the best students rise to the top. But, in the meantime, can we really say that our education system provides every child with the best education possible?

  2. prayerforhome says:

    Thanks, Julia, for bringing up this topic and Freddy for pointing out that “its wrong to say that only racial minorities can bring diverse perspectives, we all do”. Imagine two students in a classroom. One of them has just pulled an all-nighter. The other has had a full night’s rest. That in itself would have produced two very different experiences of reality, even without taking anything else about the students into account. I really appreciate the efforts of people working to create policies to empower “minorities”. However, there also needs to be the understanding – in this society and in the world – that:

    1) Where higher education and employment are concerned, there are other issues factoring into the question of diversity. The whole idea that selection and competition are naturally a part of education inherently prevents the thriving of a whole diversity of lifeways. So does the normalization of an economy where survival is based on money and people have to “look for” jobs.
    2) Framing the issues at hand as issues of “minorities” versus “the majority” can really make us forget that what we are trying to reconcile is not the relative population sizes of various races, but rather how things came to be this way (i.e. in some cases, we use the word “minority” when we are really trying to talk about “people who have been put through genocide”)

    On this topic, I would love to know what people reading this post think about how our college’s Native American Student Union (NASU) is perceived by most students, staff and faculty simply as part of the Office of Minority and International Student Life. Certainly, indigenous students are ethnic minorities in our school, as well as international (coming from multiple sovereign nations). But I also often feel that there needs to be some extra acknowledgement — some celebration and education around the fact that the indigenous students come from the first people of the land and are different from other minority/ international students in that way. And I would really like to see this acknowledgment embedded into the very organizational structure of a college that has publicized itself as having such a sense of place. Of course, this is not to make it so that everyone starts pressuring indigenous students for their nations’ traditional knowledge in the name of “honoring”, nor to downplay the wonderful friendships and collaborations that have transpired between indigenous and other minority students and the fact that we are essentially all human beings in this lifetime.

  3. Natasha says:

    It basically comes down to balance between making sure that people are viewed as people rather than emblems of something or symptoms of something and making sure that people can go to college because they would do well in college, not because they can pay the whole tuition or because they fill a quota or because their parents made sure that they could pay for a tutor for the SAT. everybody has merit, we just need to take more steps as a world society to ensure that everyone has the chance to pursue their interests and skills. in other words, the system in which we have found ourselves needs to work on leveling the playing field without dehumanizing/objectifying students.

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