Diversity is the key

By Jenette Sturges

When a bulletin board posted by a multicultural advocate in the Illinois Street Residence halls was torn down last April, students took notice. The board, called “Nigga What,” sought to address the controversial use of the words “nigga” and “nigger” and was part of a larger program discussing racial taboos.

“The issue is something that really needs to be addressed. It’s something we want people to think about,” said Lauren Johnson, the multicultural advocate, in an April 4 Daily Illini article.

The controversial programs ignited campus, prompting dialogues on the complex issues of diversity and racism on campus and in society.

The University contributes to a diverse culture in Chambana, drawing students from more than 100 countries worldwide, according to the University Division of Management Information.

A specific goal of the University’s Strategic Plan is to “increase the diversity of our undergraduate students,” aiming for 18 percent of the University’s undergraduate population to be comprised of underrepresented groups by 2011.

Tighter admissions and increased enrollment of international students spawned a state-wide debate last spring over the so-called “Indian Problem,” a term coined by Chuck Goudie, an investigative reporter for ABC Channel 7 news in Chicago. Illinois parents complained that their qualified students were being passed over in admissions in favor of not only minorities but also students from overseas – the reverse discrimination argument with an international twist.

However, the chancellor’s office continues to recruit a more diverse student body each year.

“Academic diversity and demographic diversity are two sides of the same coin,” said Luis Miron, head of the chancellor’s committee on diversity. “Student diversity really improves the quality of our school.”

On the Urbana-Champaign campus, more than 1,000 students from South Korea and several from India share their diverse cultural experiences. Student associations are formed for Arab, Polish, African, Chinese and myriad other national and ethnic student identities.

Still, students from different minority groups report having some problems on campus.

“A couple of times late at night people have driven by and yelled derogatory terms,” said Evelyn Regalado, a Mexican-American student and junior in Business. “But as a whole, people here have evolved.”

The University strives to provide a large number of resources for unique minority student populations. McKinley Health Center maintains a multicultural health Web site for special populations. The Office of Minority Student Affairs offers academic and counseling services and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers interdisciplinary programs in African American, Latino/Latina, Asian American and American Indian Studies.

Minority cultures at the University comprise a vibrant community that finds its home on Nevada Street. Culture houses include La Casa Cultural Latina, the Asian American Cultural Center, the African American Cultural Program and the Native American House.

“The Black House was a really important place to go to for me,” said Joanna Bratton, senior in LAS and a black student, of her freshman year on campus. “Each house is like your own little community.”