Whither Multiculturalism

by Mary Ellen Butler

The trend toward a more multicultural student body that Troy Duster identified in his landmark Diversity Project Report three years ago is continuing to alter Berkeley today.

The most obvious change and one that everybody knows about is the growth in the percentage of Asian students, who now constitute a plurality on campus.

But there are other changes occurring among students and faculty that should receive as much public attention as has the new plurality, Duster said in a campus talk updating what's happened since the 1991 report. He spoke to LAUC-B Cultural Diversity Committee. LAUC-B is the Berkeley Division of the Librarians Association of the University of California.

The report, which generated national and international controversy, was published under Duster's direction by the Institute for the Study of Social Change.

The requirement that all students take an American Cultures class, for instance, has brought about a "profound" reshaping of how some faculty now interact, Duster said. In meeting together to adapt the content of their courses to the new requirement, faculty have shared reading lists and explored ideas across subject lines, he said--many for the first time.

"This has been an important intellectual event and an inadvertent advantage to the dialogue over the last four years," Duster said.

This greater openness has spread to graduate students, who are helping to rethink the conventional wisdom about race and culture, he said, and even to undergraduates, especially the growing number who now identify themselves as being of "mixed race."

The national debate now occurring on whether the census form for the year 2000 should add a box for people to check "mixed race," has been influenced by mixed-race student organizations such as those that have developed at Berkeley, he said.

Duster acknowledged that minority students do develop social "enclaves" on campus, but said these should not be denigrated as "self segregation."

Rather, they are attempts by the students, many of whom learned to navigate through mostly white high schools, to reinforce their own identities and to organize to change the way their groups are treated by society.

What looks like clannishness from the outside is often an attempt to get minority students together who don't know each other and come from a variety of economic backgrounds, he said. The attempts don't always work completely, Duster said, since students don't always participate.

Students may define "diversity" differently, too, he said. For white youth, diversity may mean the personal option to be enriched by people of other backgrounds. For minority youth, diversity may mean supporting such institutional change as the American Cultures requirement, affirmative action, and the hiring of more minority-group professors.

"Issues of race will always be contentious when we're dealing with how to share power and resources," Duster said, "but there are other lenses through which to view multiculturalism."

The University should support positive efforts to help multi-culturalism enrich education, he said. If continuing discussion of the diversity study can get that idea across, then, "We will have made a point."


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