‘Whose U’ event draws hundreds

The event drew attention to the U’s policies on diversity.

Michael Zittlow

As Sam Ndely saw the Black Student UnionâÄôs funding diminish, he wondered where the University of MinnesotaâÄôs priorities fell.
The Student Services Fees Committee denied the BSU funding earlier this semester because of discrepancies in the groupâÄôs audit. Ndely, a member of BSU, wanted to do something about the UniversityâÄôs relationship with minorities and cultural groups.
So he joined the âÄúWhose University?âÄù campaign.
The campaign hosted an event Wednesday at Coffman Union, focusing on unequal access for minorities at the University. It drew faculty, staff and hundreds of college and high school students.
The event included a theatrical performance, teach-in and panel discussion on ethnic studies at the University.
Whose University? is a student group dedicated to creating a discussion on diversity at the University and relies on social media to do so. The group is producing a documentary film that will premiere next year. A trailer of the movie was played for the eventâÄôs audience.
Hana Worku, a founder of the campaign, said the group was formed in response to the UniversityâÄôs unequal treatment of underrepresented groups âÄî despite claims of upholding diversity.
âÄúThereâÄôs a lack of information flowing about what is really happening at the U,âÄù Worku said.
She said the threat of cultural student groups, like the BSU, losing their space on the second floor of Coffman and possible budget cuts to ethnic studies programs contradict the UniversityâÄôs rhetoric on diversity.
Worku also said the scholarship she entered the University with, provided to students of color in St. Paul high schools, is being defunded next year.
âÄúFundamentally, we might not agree [on issues surrounding specific policies],âÄù Assistant Vice President of Equity and Diversity Rickey Hall said, adding that the groupâÄôs grassroots organization is beneficial to student development.
While the scholarship Worku entered the University with might be lost, other opportunities are replacing it and will include a broader range of students, Hall said. He added that with the economic downturn, all groups at the University, including those concerned with diversity, experienced cuts.
Still, Worku and Whose University? co-founder Sofia Shank hope that with a new president next year, the school will refocus on diversity.
Worku and Shank are optimistic about incoming University President Eric KalerâÄôs appointment after he stated that he wants to increase the UniversityâÄôs focus on students of color.
âÄúWe donâÄôt want to work against administration,âÄù Ndely said, âÄúwe want to work with administration.âÄù
During the teach-in portion of the groupâÄôs event, students spoke about their University experience.
Samra Mekonnen, a family social sciences and global studies junior, said her experience as a student in a low-income charter school helped her understand the barriers preventing students of color from accessing higher education. She said she had to work harder than those from more privileged neighborhoods.
Other testimonies centered on the loss of the General College, the threat of reduced funds for the Chicano studies program and historic sit-ins at Morrill Hall that increased scholarships for black students.
In the crowd, students from 10 high schools cheered on the testimonies.
Ndely said the groupâÄôs next step will be setting up programs to promote higher education in these high schools.
âÄúI want people to leave here inspired today,âÄù he said. âÄúA lot of people are paying attention.âÄù