Same people, same problem, richer group

High ground

As many of you know, cultural groups on campus have proposed a split from Undergraduate Student Government (USG) into their own Student Executive Council (SEC) board. The split would create the Undergraduate Diversity Collective (UDC), which would take over the student activities funding for cultural groups to ensure that diversity will remain a goal and that each group is treated equitably. The university administration supports this move, because it is a politically expedient way for them to claim they addressed tolerance issues while incurring little cost. But in reality all this split would accomplish would be to create richer clubs for the same people.

This push comes in the wake of racist Yik Yaks directed toward a group of students protesting racially charged police brutality. If you want to know how I think these Yik Yaks should be treated, I point you to my article “The Social Animal,” but suffice it to say that they reflect the deplorable racist views of a very small number of the students here at Case Western Reserve University. They most certainly should not be viewed as a reflection on the entire or even a sizable portion of the non-African American student body. Yet I have heard this incident cited time and time again to justify the creation of the Undergraduate Diversity Collective (UDC) to combat this intolerance. Is this the appropriate response?

So far, USG has admitted that they do not have a “good grasp” on the needs of diversity groups, and thus the groups are not receiving the funding they need to be successful. In response USG is reworking the budget in order to allocate more funds to an array of student groups, which is fair. Funding is a major portion of what USG does, and they should be able to come to an arrangement. That arrangement should not be dependent on the creation of the UDC.

Let me deconstruct the rationale behind this break away as it was presented in last week’s article, titled “Break Away.” First critics contend that funding for cultural groups will not always be correctly prioritized by USG and that the creation of the UDC will rectify this. The benefits of this reallocation as outlined by UDC advocates are not proportional, “Right now there is the issue that if one group is represented more on campus, they get more funding. It is important to equalize the playing field.”

This makes little sense. We all pay the same share into the student activities fund, so events that entice more students to go should receive funding correspondingly. If the Undergraduate Indian Student Association (uISA), for example, is not receiving the money it needs to properly cover one or more particular cultural groups here at CWRU, that should be rectified. But it should not get a bigger slice of the pie simply because it is a cultural group. I, for one, want to know exactly where the money would come from, because otherwise students who are not part of a particular group or following its events are at a loss.

Second, are cultural clubs at a disadvantage here at CWRU relative to other student groups? A study in the online political science journal, The Forum, found that 72 percent of faculty working for universities and colleges in the U.S. are liberal, with approximately 15 percent identifying as conservative. More elite schools skew the number even more to around 87 percent. CWRU is no exception. Cultural advocates, you are among friends here.

CWRU makes diversity a priority, dedicating an office for inclusion, diversity and equal opportunity that is responsible for programs like diversity awareness training and the Power of Diversity lecture series. Students are encouraged to get involved in any way they see fit. Please do not insult CWRU and the student body by lumping them in with spiteful Yakkers by saying diversity is not a goal or will not always be a goal. The UDC does not need to exist to ensure this.

That being said, it would be incorrect to say that racism does not exist on campus because of this liberal slant or that the diversity programs here at CWRU are perfect. But it is also incorrect to suggest that more funding for diversity groups will combat ignorance that slips between the gaps. Why? Well, let’s assume that the people who sent those Yaks have deep-seated racial animus toward black people and thus are actual barriers to the acceptance of black students here at CWRU. Funding a diversity organization to hold more events will not change that. Those events won’t even cross the racists’ radar. If a potluck dinner discussion or guest speaker could solve racism, then it would not still be the problem it is today. Advertisements and events will go largely unnoticed by those not affiliated with the group.

It is in this way that more funding for diversity programs only profits the groups themselves and others who already embrace diversity. What exactly makes the bump in cash so special to these groups? How big a difference will it really make? You are just paying for an additional event or two for the same people who already participate in the organization.

I am not one to criticize without offering an alternative. A major cause of racial attitudes here at CWRU, especially as they pertain to the police, is the economic and racial disparity between our institution and the poorer sections of Cleveland. One need only drive a few minutes into the heart of Cleveland to understand just how profound the inequality between the haves and the have nots is. Life in the CWRU bubble is significantly less tumultuous than living in poverty a few streets over. Crime is more prevalent there. Campus police have to deal with malcontents from the area, which is predominantly black. This can cause all kinds of nasty and politically incorrect profiling.

I would like to submit an initiative to USG addressing this issue. CCEL does an okay job providing opportunities for students to get involved, but those in need are underserved by a wide margin. If USG would create a community service initiative on campus to encourage students to volunteer, then we could cultivate a culture of service and harmony with the area. This would require funding to incentivize participation and would merit its own committee. Students will be far more inclined to get involved if the requests are coming from their friends and peers.

The main objective would be to break down stereotypes and build relationships on both ends. East Clevelanders should see CWRU and the student body as a friendly and helpful neighbor, not an aloof, privileged institution. CWRU students should see East Cleveland as an opportunity to do something positive for their neighbors and to foster good will. I envision a mutually beneficial relationship that would do wonders for the surrounding area. An example I point to is one that is literally close to home for me. (I am from Connecticut.) Yale has dramatically reshaped the once crime-stricken surrounding area of New Haven through strengthening the tax base, supporting youth and developing neighborhood and public school partnerships utilizing both faculty and students. While changes made by CWRU may not be as dramatic, fostering a relationship with our surrounding underserved and often disadvantaged area will reduce crime and undermine the rationale for racial profiling by on-campus police.

If USG and the student body accept the initiative, perhaps it may eventually split into its own SEC board. I would gladly help in any way I could. But as it stands, the proposed UDC will simply give disproportionate amounts of money to student groups identifying with a particular cultural or ethnic group and little else. Unfortunately the cynic in me says the creation of this board is too political to be shot down. No one wants to be on the opposite side. Everyone wants to be able to say they struck a blow for tolerance in the face of bigotry, even if it is weakly justified and the money could be spent in ways that more productively foster racial and cultural harmony.

Chandler Holcomb is a junior at Case Western Reserve University.