Wednesday, August 5, 2020

GUEST COLUMN: Dear Michigan State, do it right this time

June 9, 2020
<p>The Hannah Administration Building at sunset Dec. 7th, 2019.</p>

The Hannah Administration Building at sunset Dec. 7th, 2019.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

By Dr. George L. Cornell

Professor Emeritus, History, American Studies and American Indian Studies

Director Emeritus and Founding Director, Native American Institute

I recently received the June 4 Spartan Mailing from President Stanley detailing Michigan State’s response to the George Floyd murder and the following unrest, outcry and demand for justice across the United States and the world.

Clearly, the time has come for changes that will address the systemic and rampant racism and vilification of minorities in the United States that has continued under the guise of white privilege and economic disparity. Unfortunately, we’ve heard all of this before.

Michigan State University was one of the first major universities in the United States to try and address these issues when they instituted the College of Urban Development (CUD) back in the 1970s. The CUD had 2 departments, Racial and Ethnic Studies and Urban and Metropolitan Studies.

The mission of the departments and the college was to educate students and citizens about issues of race and urbanization and how they were affecting the United States and developing cities and regions in Michigan and the nation.

The department of Racial and Ethnic Studies (RES) partnered with the College of Education at MSU to train teachers about how racism in the United States has affected perceptions of students and how the history of discrimination and bias has precluded generations of “minority” children and young adults from achieving the educational levels and goals that they were more than capable of.

In addition, (RES) taught numerous courses to the university community on American Indians, Black Americans, Chicanos and Asians as well as the immigrant experience for white Americans in the U.S.

How do I know this?

I began my teaching career at MSU in the department of RES in 1975 and worked to develop courses with dedicated faculty and leadership. And then, I watched and protested as Michigan State University leadership and the Board of Trustees dismantled the College of Urban Development and the sister departments beginning in 1980 after not even giving the college a fair chance to succeed.

And, think of the context, coming out of a very difficult and prolonged Civil Rights Movement and an unpopular war in Vietnam.

My, oh my. What a legacy.

Check it out — the history of those units and that period of time is preserved in the MSU archives in the library.

So now, 45 years later — once again I may add — MSU is committing to diversity education and taking its proper role in righting the injustices of the past.

It seems like they said this at least once before. Are you getting my point here?

Do not let MSU or any other institution provide simple lip service to much needed change and support for educational structures that will insure an informed educational response to racism, classism and economic disparity in the United States.

They did it once and they need to be held accountable not to do it again. I’ve lived with the history of that failure at MSU for the last 45 years, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Please, keep MSU on track to address these critical societal issues so we can actually move forward and create an atmosphere of personal worth and opportunity that affords all citizens the chance to achieve their full human potential.

Dr. Stanley, everyone is watching this time around. Stay committed to making this work and keep MSU on track as a national leader. This is especially important now as current political leadership creates a divisive social climate.

Keep MSU moving forward, and this time, put some money behind the initiatives and make sure they are integrated into the fiscal fabric of the institution. That’s what university endowments are for … right?

Editor's note: During the process of verifying the author's claims, we included hyperlinks for context and a publicly available federal report below that provides background about the creation of the College of Urban Development from the Education Resources Information Center sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education.

The author's words were edited for clarity and style.

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