U needs more awareness, attention to issues of diversity

Thank you for publishing the May 28 feature “The Wright Legacy.” Wright and those who joined him in the 1969 Morrill Hall takeover truly deserve our thanks and admiration for working to improve conditions at the University of Minnesota for people of color.

To be sure, problems persist in terms of diversity among students and faculty. Feelings of isolation and racial profiling remain obstacles for many, as do retention, promotion and professional development opportunities for faculty of color. The University continues to struggle with a paltry enrollment of African-American students, something it must address if it wishes to bolster its status as an inclusive and academically viable research institution in the 21st century.

All University units must take responsibility in this effort; to do otherwise is simply window dressing a hollow rhetoric. We can begin by not only acknowledging and promoting the contributions people of color have made to the university, but more importantly, by presenting accurate information about these facts.

For example, the article states, “Wright eventually became the University’s first black student to receive an American studies doctorate.” My father, James Mann Gaither, received his Ph.D. in American studies at the University of Minnesota in 1957, 20 years before Wright. An African-American student who received a degree from the University of Chicago prior to arriving here, my father often spoke about racial segregation in Minneapolis.

This is not to deter from, nor in any way diminish, the contributions of Wright. All should work to provide outlets and opportunities for people of color to voice our experiences and ideas about the communities in which we live and work. However, what’s often missing in the conversation is a robust — and accurate — context in which to glean a richer, more nuanced understanding. Connections resonate between calls for greater diversity by the student collective Whose Diversity? and the obstacles Wright identifies. As Wright told the Daily, “The bulk of the work is still ahead of us.”

Media outlets such as the Daily can help play a central role in surfacing issues of diversity and equity across the University system. And they should do so with cultural sensitivity, awareness and hawkish attention to factual accuracy. Thanks and compliments to Marion Renault for introducing many to the Morrill Hall takeover and Wright’s life and legacy.