We shouldn’t forget about the Morrill Hall sit-in

The arrest of University of Minnesota students in Morrill Hall last month for “trespassing” during a sit-in highlights who has power at the University and how they wield it. Students of Whose Diversity? and others have been fighting for years for a voice against administrative negligence and empty rhetoric. This righteous act of civil disobedience was a brave next step that exists within an important historical and social context that must be part of any public dialogue.

This dialogue begins with stories that provide historical context. Stories like the Dakota War and the subsequent removal policies that saw thousands of Dakota put in a concentration camp at Fort Snelling. Stories like the 1920 Duluth Lynching, a spectacle for tens of thousands in the farthest most reaches of the “non-racist” northern half of the United States.

Stories like that of the Silver Shirts, a fascist movement in the 1930s that was strongest in Minneapolis, make racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry a consensual bipartisan issue.

Stories like the Lee family, an African-American family who moved into south Minneapolis in 1931 only to be met by a crowd of over 4,000 whites protesting the Lee family moving into their white-only community. Or the story of the 1969 Morrill Hall takeover, an event with striking parallels to the most recent protest, which also radically demanded racial justice, access, equity and inclusion.

These are just a few of the historic human stories that begin to shape the larger social context of today. We live in a time where Americans live divided physically, economically and socially as the result of institutional and structural practices that shape spaces like north Minneapolis and to historic practices like restrictive housing covenants and redlining.

Whose Diversity? stands on the side of history that represents a radical justice that challenges and unveils the realities of oppression that is mirrored by the University in the form of unequal inclusion and access.

For example, in Minneapolis 18.6 percent of the population is African-American, while at the University it is only 3.8 percent. The Latino community of Minneapolis is 10.5 percent whereas at the University it is only 2.6 percent. Indigenous Minnesotans and immigrant populations, like Somalis and Hmong, are also sorely underrepresented. Communities of color are in the greatest need of upward mobility from education as they experience a disproportionately high rate of poverty.