Letter from the Editor

Thursday, April 24, 2003

What exactly is a minority?

A comedian tells an interesting joke that rings all too true with our ethnocentric world.

In it, a white American goes traveling to Africa. When he returns, a friend asks him how he enjoyed his trip. "It was fine," he said, "but there sure are a lot of minorities over there."

We are going to have to revise our ideas about what the term "minority" means. In Storm Lake, estimates are that at least a third of the population and climbing is what many of us would think of as "minority" - immigrants, persons of color, those who do not speak English as a native language. (Even though we try to legislate it as our "official" tongue, which is an interesting bit of ethnocentric comedy in itself.)

For some of us, the definition may broaden to religion, sexuality, lifestyle, age, physical ability or disability.

What happens when the "minorities" become a majority? I've certainly lived in places where there are more faces of color than there are in my shade of sunburned pale, but never somehow thought of myself as "the minority."

On the other hand, I suppose we all are, technically, a minority of one. There is no other just like us; our skin, speech, religion and nationality of origin may generalize us, but our minds, hearts and souls are purely unique.

I suspect we might get farther if we saved all the money of Census racial counts and perhaps even retired the term "minority." Does race matter so much, really?

The Buena Vista University student newspaper, "The Tack," recently devoted some excellent coverage to issues of diversity. In the midst of a fairly diverse Storm Lake, BVU has historically been pretty white-bread - this year's "minority" student population of 4.9 percent may not sound like much, but it does represent an emerging growth in diversity compared to past years.

At issue in The Tack is the Supreme Court case over preferential admission policies at the University of Michigan, which is said to award 20 points extra toward admission scoring for minority applicants as opposed to caucasian applicants.

Is it reverse discrimination? Of course. Is it warranted? Perhaps. Data clearly shows ethnic minority families making less money on average, and in some places, they may be concentrated in low-performing, high-risk public school environments. At Michigan, officials no doubt believe their policies are offsetting the social disadvantages some groups have faced.

Life, of course, isn't fair. Major universities nationwide tumble over each other to peddle full-ride scholarships to athletes who in some cases have little to offer academically, while those with much higher grades and prospects to contribute to society get overlooked for lack of a jump shot or tailback credentials. Nobody cries foul.

BVU does not follow the Michigan approach. It may consciously recruit with diversity as one goal, but that is not discrimination. It does not score minority applicants any differently than others, and that is for the best.

While BV does offer a full-ride Multicultural Scholarship aimed only at students of color, according to The Tack, the standards are the same as those of other scholarships open to all regardless of race. I'd love to see that scholarship given not based on skin color, however, but on the applicant's potential for contributing to the ideals of multicultural awareness.

I am impressed with Jennifer Schon, writing an opinion in the same student newspaper issue, on behalf of The Tack editorial board. She writes candidly of her own feelings of being discriminated against when she came to BVU, and found out that the full-ride scholarship was only open to students of color, a pigment she did not qualify for.

"...However, I've experienced the benefits of having a diversified campus. I no longer see my failure to receive a full-ride scholarship as a loss; the insights from minority members those scholarships have brought to campus offer more value for the buck then would my room and board."

And there is the lesson in all of this - a lesson that, it seems, can only be learned through first-hand exposure.

Diversity adds something intangible to the life experience. It may come with its growing pains, but it has a value as well. Storm Lake and BVU are more interesting places for it.

"Minorities" aren't such a minority any more. They are neighbors, co-workers, classmates. We are a diverse whole instead of the sum of our ethnic parts.

Soon enough, the only true minority will be the shrinking number of people who haven't come to see the value in others, regardless of skin or language.