I grew up in metro Detroit so I knew that racial tensions existed in the world. But I never really thought about it much. I went to a mostly white high school, but I had close friends who were Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese. My college roommate at MSU was African American. But I never really thought of them as anything other than just people. I learned about their cultures, ate food I hadn’t tried before and loved the experiences of learning new things. I naively thought that serious racial bigotry was a thing of the 1960s and the past.
Then I got married and moved to out of state when my husband was in the Air Force. We were stationed in a pretty homogenous area without the urban diversity I was more accustomed to.
I remember one of our first days there, standing in a restaurant waiting area waiting for a table, and hearing a man make incredibly loud, racist remarks about an African American family dining at the restaurant. My husband and I were so stunned we simply walked out. Later, I witnessed a neighbor shouting racial slurs about Native Americans when she thought someone stole laundry off her line. An African American airman and friend who worked with my husband told of having rocks and racial slurs thrown at him as he rode his bike in town. Another day, a customer I was waiting on told me a “joke” using racist language to describe Arab Americans.
It was a sad wakeup call for me that racism and bigotry was far from dead. I looked around at that town where so many people looked the same, had the same histories and ethnic backgrounds and thought about how their ignorance and fear were making them miss out on life. I’ve often thought about how much richer their lives could be if they opened their minds and expanded their circle to reach people who were different.
I think about the trip I took last year for the Spartans Will.360 project. For the first time in my life, I was the minority. I, with my pale skin and blond hair, was the one who stood out as different. Everyone around me was different from me and I loved every minute of it. I also found it interesting that there was never a time that I wasn’t met with openness and kindness. Curiosity? Absolutely, but always in a kind way. Children wanted to touch my hair, (which is what’s going on in the photo above in Tanzania) or sometimes people stared. I think maybe once someone muttered something not very nice about Americans, but nothing more than that.
And I learned so much. I saw incredible things, met amazing people and broadened my view of the world by leaps and bounds. How lucky was I?
That’s what’s great about MSU. You don’t have to take a trip around the world to experience some of those very same things. You can find diversity right here on campus. You can find friends and colleagues from different countries, religions, backgrounds and upbringings. I just heard a story yesterday about a young man who made friends with a Saudi student. He is still talking about the traditional meal he shared with his new friend’s family and how special it was.
This past Monday, the university celebrated diversity on Martin Luther King Jr. day with a variety of events, including a march. The day was part of a bigger yearlong initiative; Project 60/50 celebrates the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
One of the speakers at the march was Ernest Green, an MSU alumnus and member of the Little Rock Nine. Check out a photo from that event in the GLIMPSE: One of Nine.
Claire Babala, a professional writing sophomore, attended some of the activities on Monday. Read her STUDENT VIEW: Evoke a Positive Change, for her take on standing up for what you believe in.
Last Sunday the College of Music presented “Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest” as part of MLK commemorative celebrations. Read the FACULTY VOICE: Jazz—Diversity of a Nation, written by Rodney Whitaker, University Distinguished Professor of jazz bass and director of jazz studies, and Kenneth Prouty, associate professor of musicology and jazz studies, to learn about the role jazz plays in fostering dialogue and reaching across communities.
It's important that we celebrate our diversity. Spartans aren’t just one kind of person. Spartans are as diverse as the world itself. No matter where we’ve come from, we’re bound together by this great university and what we learn from each other is as important as what we learn from our teachers.
Photo of children in Naitolia, Tanzania by Kurt Stepnitz