In his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked that, "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." Last year, the United Minorities Council and the Undergraduate Assembly began a partnership, but the impetus was personal, not political. Two friends, Chaz Howard, the former UMC chair, and Bill Conway, the former UA chair, used their relationship to informally bring together two organizations that had little previous interaction. Chaz continued his efforts this fall, and the UA eagerly accepted his overtures. Slowly, the alliance began to crystallize. The UMC joined the UA Steering Committee, and the UA appointed a liaison to the UMC. In addition, a race relations dialogue began between members of the UA, the UMC and the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education. But these were small steps that were not ends unto themselves. There is much more to be done, and all along we knew that. This semester, we hope to build upon this foundation and consummate a substantive, real partnership with tangible goals. Recently, the executive boards of the UA and the UMC met and outlined their collective agenda for collaboration this semester. First, the diversity committee that engaged in dialogue last semester is now working toward turning their productive conversations into action. It plans on holding seminar groups led by Program for Awareness in Cultural Education moderators. Ultimately, the committee hopes that the administration will allow discussion groups on diversity to be held during New Student Orientation. Secondly, service to the community is a priority for both organizations. Within the next few months, the UA and UMC together will participate in a joint service project. In addition, the UA West Philadelphia Committee is busy planning Ivy Corps, an event on April 8 when students across the Ivy League will simultaneously engage in community service initiatives. The UMC will be active in planning this exciting venture, which may also include a West Philadelphia 5K run. Thirdly, it is important that we open up the channels of communication for us to attain our common goals. We will set up a joint listserv for the executive boards of the UA and UMC, and we plan on holding a joint meeting for all members within the coming weeks. Furthermore, we intend for our organizations to meet regularly with the political arms of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, UMOJA (representing black student groups), the Latino Coalition and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance. These four groups are closely tuned to the specific minority communities each represents, and we will work to better connect with their constituents. Finally, we hope this formalized alliance will break down perceptions within the larger student body that have hindered our two groups to date. Minorities are underrepresented on the UA and, in past years, the organization struggled to address the concerns of the minority community. Similarly, the UMC has encountered difficulty in articulating that its message is relevant and pertinent to the entire campus community. Through this partnership, each group legitimizes the other. The UMC will encourage more minority students to run for the UA, and the UA will continue to publicize and support UMC events. Issues of diversity are of incredible significance at Penn -- but they are often overlooked. People, including campus leaders, are uncomfortable talking about them. They are further reluctant to take the initial steps to break down the barriers and stereotypes that divide. We view diversity as an intellectual concept with educational and personal benefits. Only when this is acknowledged can we face the gamut of social and political issues like retention and recruitment of minorities and faculty, perceived self-segregation on campus and distribution of financial aid. As Nelson Mandela wrote, "I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest -- to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment -- for my long walk has not yet ended." The UA and the UMC have come a long way since last spring, but only now have we begun to recognize our inescapable network of mutuality. Our organizations have much to gain from this partnership. However, all of us -- administration, faculty and students alike -- must play a role as we begin to unleash the power of diversity at Penn.Comments powered by Disqus
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