President Nan Keohane will soon make a decision about the effectiveness and future direction of a University committee on diversity formed in the fall of 1994, based on a report to be submitted by Julian Sanchez, director of Intercultural Affairs and the committee's chair.
The Multicultural Committee first met in 1995 in response to calls for more awareness and understanding among various ethnic groups. It was established by Keohane to provide a forum in which representatives from the University's many different cultural groups could air their concerns.
Despite high levels of attendance and participation in its first year of existence, said Judith White, special assistant to the president, the committee was faced with increasing apathy last year. She said student participation in meetings has dropped off significantly since the committee's first year.
Representatives from Spectrum, the Black Student Alliance, the Asian Student Association, the Duke India Association, Hillel, Mi Gente and other student organizations were considered integral parts of the committee at its inception.
This year, however, a number of current presidents of culturally oriented groups said that they were unfamiliar with the committee or its function. Some said that they would be enthusiastic about future participation in such a committee.
Sanchez's report to the president, currently in its draft stage, will include three possible visions for the future of the committee. Sanchez said the group could be assigned a more narrow charge, could change into a discussion seminar with fewer meetings or could take on both of these goals.
White said she considered the possibility that a larger committee could be eliminated completely in favor of a coalition of narrowly defined subgroups. She added that one of the reasons the committee may have lost steam was its lack of a specific set of goals. She said attendance and participation are often based on how much excitement a specific goal generates.
"[The committee] should be a mix of people's concerns rather than an amorphous saying about how we're diverse people," White said. "[The charge of the committee] was more like an observation than a goal."
White's opinion was shared to some extent by other members of the committee. Sanchez said the committee was not a task force with concrete goals but added that the group did divide into smaller subcommittees to discuss issues like a multicultural curriculum requirement. The group's size made it difficult to focus on major issues, he said.
Sanchez added, however, that he believed strongly in the success of the discussion aspect of the committee. "The most exciting part was the conversations that took place... that is still a viable purpose," he said.
Members of many different ethnic groups found it extremely helpful to discuss their views on racial intolerance and discrimination, he said.
Some of the more concrete achievements of the committee, Sanchez said, included consideration of an Intercultural Studies Center, involvement in Martin Luther King Day celebrations and discussion of possible uses for a Ford Foundation grant for increasing diversity on campus.