We shouldn’t forget about the Morrill Hall Sit-In

The poverty rates in Minneapolis are more than 50 percent for the African American and American Indian communities and about 40 percent for the Latino community. Poverty impacts children of color the greatest, burdening them from a young age with obstacles to attaining higher education and a pathway out of poverty and away from the school-prison pipeline. A very large majority of children in poverty in Minnesota are children of color.

Working in elementary education in north Minneapolis, I see the consequences of this reality daily. They derive unspeakable strength, courage, wisdom and adversity daily from overcoming hunger, endless health issues or violence in the community to perform at high levels in our school.

These scholars are our future, and it is through their eyes that we must see the future and with their hands that it will be built. Whose Diversity? and others have consistently challenged the narratives about equity and diversity on campus, including challenging the whitewashing of the safe-spaces and diversity of the cultural centers in Coffman Union.

They have demanded more diverse faculty and tenure tracks for ethnic study departments like Chicano Studies. These demands echo the unfulfilled demands of the 1969 Morrill Hall takeover.

These struggles explain precisely why such dialogue threatens the administration because it has the ability to empower students to act. The University of Minnesota stated that it has a belief in “frank conversations” about the “issues that affect the campus community,” but it has consistently balked at the opportunities to do so.

The opportunity to have such dialogue has always existed, but neither President Eric Kaler nor the Board of Regents has been
interested in anything but discussing such matters on their own terms in scripted speeches and behind closed doors. The status quo of talking without listening and words without actions has served the University well.

In May 2014, the Minnesota Daily interviewed Professor John Wright, a participant in the Morrill Hall takeover, who explained, “The obstacles are persistent … some of them growing instead of diminishing with time … What we started in Morrill Hall … is only partially finished. The bulk of the work is still ahead of us.”

As a former student of his, a graduate of the University and a current educator in our community, I could not agree more.