Yesterday's Community Celebration of Diversity in Red Square commemorated the 40-year anniversary of the Black Student Union sit-in staged on May 20, 1968 in the offices of then-UW President Charles Odegaard.
Odegaard and his administration listened to the demands of the students and agreed to pursue aggressive recruitment of minority and disadvantaged white students, the hiring of more staff and faculty of color, and the creation of a center on campus for the academic and cultural development of students of color. He also approved the creation of a black studies department.
The celebrations featured food booths, almost 60 departments and student organizations with exhibits on diversity, as well as live performances by student groups and guest performers.
The formal program included two panel discussions in the Walker Ames room of Kane Hall. The first, "40 years of Visionary Leadership," featured former vice presidents of the UW Office of Minority Affairs (OMA), and Sheila Edwards Lange, current Vice President for Minority Affairs and Vice Provost for Diversity.
"One of my challenges is following the great leadership that OMA and diversity that have come before me," Edwards Lange said. "How can I continue the legacy that I have inherited?"
Nancy Barcelo, former vice president of OMA, was concerned about decreased diversity in graduate programs and the implications of that for the diversity of faculty.
Myron Apilado, former OMA vice president, said the passage of the Washington State Civil Rights Act in 1998 was one of the biggest challenges during his tenure. The act prohibits "government entities from discriminating or granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin," according to the Washington Secretary of State Web site.
Under the act, the University can no longer consider race as a factor in the admissions process.
Barcelo discussed why diversity is still an issue today.
"This work was always seen as temporary," Barecelo said. "We were seen as a problem and that one day it would go away. When that happens, resources are not allocated to these kinds of programs, nor are we held to the same kinds of standards for review."
Some of the original members of the Black Student Union, who organized the sit-in, spoke at Red Square later in the afternoon. More than 900 Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) students were also recognized for making the dean's list this year.
While recognition and celebration were featured yesterday, the celebrators were also aware that there is still much work to be done.
"The question, 'Have we achieved diversity?' is still out there," Edwards Lange said. "I don't think we are going to see offices of minority affairs, of social justice and equity go away for a long time."
Members of the Black Student Union engaged in a protest in the offices of former UW president Charles Odegaard for four hours and 15 minutes. The students' efforts were successful, and agreements were made to create a black studies department and a minority and cultural development center.
The ASUW Womens Action Commission was formed.
The Gay Students Association was established.
The ASUW Board of Control passed a bill that granted commission status for the Gay, Bisexual and Lesbian Commission.