Muller: Embrace open dialogue on diversity


Yoni Muller, Columnist

I have a secret, and it’s a real doozy.

I’m white.

That’s right, I said it. I’m like porcelain, or a cheesy cartoon rendition of Casper.  I’m the kind of Christmas Bing Crosby was singing about.

Many of you may have inferred this, through keen observation of my blinding reflection, but I would like to confirm your beliefs. You see, up until now, I have not been able to admit this. Referring to race was simply not done; life played out like the post-robbery interview scene from “Superbad.”

However, there seems to be a change taking place — a change I welcome wholeheartedly. Northwestern, it seems to me, has recently developed into a hodgepodge of discussion about race and equality and the role of institutions regarding race. No matter your opinion, someone out there is advocating it.

The gates of discussion were opened after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an affirmative action case concerning Abigail Fisher, who was allegedly denied admission to the University of Texas because she is white. This very publication released two opposing columns regarding the case one week after – and had their consequences been known ahead of time, I would have pushed for a third column to boot, in hopes of encouraging further conversation.

Jan Jaro’s column supporting affirmative action was published alongside a contradictory viewpoint written by Sydney Zink. With the flurry of comments that followed, I was led to believe that this was the biggest news story to break since students learned what a sex toy was two years ago.

However, that was just the beginning. The Daily has published three letters to the editor and an additional column discussing race since. Additionally, we have seen similar discussion emerge outside of The Daily. A blog called wrightandleft, authored by a former Chicago Public Schools teacher, recently published an open letter to President Schapiro, condemning what the author argues is a persistent culture of racial insensitivity at Northwestern.

However, the most important event in furthering Northwestern’s racial discussions happened Tuesday night. A PDF surfaced that purportedly contains an exchange between a member of NU’s Board of Trustees and an NU sophomore. Apparently, during the first presidential debate, the student posted a Facebook status, which read, “Romney interrupting the mediator and Obama thinking that shit is ok is just a result of that white male privilege that he has benefited from for so long.” The trustee, a white male, apparently felt his ears burning and messaged the student to express concern about this status. What ensued was a conversation about the existence of “white male privilege” and the consequences of race on socioeconomic success.

In case that wasn’t clear enough, let me reiterate. An NU trustee seems to have had a personal conversation with an NU sophomore regarding the role of race, and that conversation was posted online for the world to see. Assuming the exchange in fact took place, this may be the first time in history we have had such transparent insight into the opinions of our academic leadership. And, more importantly, whether you agree or disagree with what the trustee – or anyone else for that matter – had to say over the last week or so, having seen his viewpoints regarding racial impact is the biggest catalyst we could have in terms of promoting healthy campus-wide discussion about how race should affect University policy moving forward.

The discussions that we’ve had over the last week have ranged from intelligent to incoherent; from civil to downright barbaric. However, we’ve been having them, and that to me is huge. As a new opinion is expressed and fought over almost daily, what is becoming increasingly clear is that this is not a simple issue. The role of affirmative action, the impact we place on the consequences of race, and the consequences of a diverse environment are more complex than getting a girl to say hi to you, and it can’t be understood through silence or blanket statements. As these discussions evolve, points become more nuanced, problems become more identifiable and solutions begin to evolve. Finally we can promote discussion about whether to continue affirmative action and how to ensure that the academic playing field is level for everyone. And that, my friends, is almost as important as any sexual demonstration could be.

Yoni Muller is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].