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Racial equity, inclusion still is lacking at UMD, group says

Members of Duluth's communities of color and their supporters plan to make their voices heard about inclusion and equity at the University of Minnesota Duluth graduation ceremony today.

Racial inequality at UMD
Duluth NAACP chapter President Claudie Washington led a news conference Friday at the University of Minnesota Duluth to press the administration to do more to create a welcoming atmosphere for people of color. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Members of Duluth's communities of color and their supporters plan to make their voices heard about inclusion and equity at the University of Minnesota Duluth graduation ceremony today.

Claudie Washington, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP, led a news conference Friday, saying another academic year has passed with more incidents of racial insensitivity and little work on diversity among faculty, staff and students at the university. He said a group would be at the graduation today at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center to protest the university's historical lack of equity and a climate that continues to feel threatening to people of color.

Washington and other speakers said it was time to see real action on diversity on the campus, not more reports or talk about processes.

"We need to feel the climate change," he said.

UMD Chancellor Lynn Black, who said he heard about the news conference while in a meeting with the Campus Climate Change Team, responded in a written statement.

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"We welcome voices that challenge the status quo and stand behind our commitment to equity, diversity and social justice for all," Black wrote. "One of our recent proactive initiatives in this area includes the recruitment of a faculty fellow for intercultural initiatives." Black said UMD wants to fill the position within the month.

Joseph Bouie, a retired administrator at the College of St. Scholastica, said a lack of diversity among UMD staff and faculty leaves students feeling isolated and "often forced into silence" when it comes to racism they encounter.

Washington said that when faculty of color come to campus, they leave quickly because of the climate they find.

"They don't see a support system in place," he said.

Carl Crawford, the intercultural services coordinator for Lake Superior College, said "our silence cannot be kept. There must be change."

He said the call for that change is "not anti-UMD, it's pro-equity."

Xavier Bell, director of community engagement for Community Action Duluth, said his son attended UMD for a time but left after feeling frustrated with the treatment people of color experienced on campus.

"Policy and practices have not changed," Bell said. "We have a problem."

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Washington said he wants to see specific goals and timetables in the university's 2011 strategic plan, including specific mention of communities of color. He said the mention of indigenous people requires including others.

Ricky Defoe, an enrolled Fond du Lac Band and member of Duluth's Human Rights Commission, said he stands in solidarity with other people of color in demanding that UMD do a better job and "fight systemic racism."

Washington said the end of the academic year is a good time to remind people of the work that still needs to be done.

"We want the community to know," he said.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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