Outlook

Respecting the spirit of diversity

Friday, June 25, 2010

As the catalyst for systemic changes in the environment for all students of color at St. Cloud State, the 1995 Hunger Strike was a significant moment in our University’s history.

Led by members of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) determined to fast until the University reached agreement on their 13 demands, the strike played a historic role in the struggle to create processes and policies to address discrimination and inequities on campus. Among the changes that have occurred as a direct result: the establishment of a Student Cultural Center, the creation of a Multicultural Resource Center, the plan to establish and maintain a Chicana/o Studies major, a commitment to recruit and retain more students/faculty of color, the creation of a student Cultural Diversity committee in student government and the hiring of a legal advocate for students.

On May 5 MEChA and their allies commemorated the 15th anniversary of the hunger strike. A large and diverse group of faculty, staff and students gathered in respect and solidarity and through ceremony to honor their role in making St. Cloud State a better place.

Danza Mexica Cuauhtémoc, traditional Aztec dancers, offered ceremonies honoring the stages of life and the progression of change, and a first cut of a documentary about the Hunger Strike, “Born of Hunger,” was shown. The independent film describes the facts about the discrimination and inequities that led to the Hunger Strike and the resulting changes on campus. As executive producer Jerry López ’97 put it: “We’re not just trying to tell a story, we’re trying to change the way people think about St Cloud State ... the stigma of this university has gone on long enough. We want people to feel connected, that this story is relevant to them.”

St. Cloud State is 141 years old, but it wasn’t until nearly 100 years after its founding when doors opened to students from groups that had been largely shut out of most public college and university campuses. College was no longer for the select few, thanks to civil rights laws, federal financial aid and changing attitudes about the value of a college education for individuals representing all races, religions, genders and physical abilities.

We’ve been struggling ever since to get it right. Struggling to be more than a place that says it is open and welcoming to all students who want to come here for an education and all faculty and staff who want to be a part of providing that education. Struggling to be what we say we are for a student of color population that has grown to 1,560.

We advertise St. Cloud State as a university that prepares its graduates to live in a global community. The rich diversity of traditions and perspectives that are celebrated on our campus are our biggest asset in accomplishing this part of our students’ education. The leadership and the resources that have emerged also are assets to a broader community grappling with their own biases and preconceived ideas about our emerging community.

The ceremonies of the Hunger Strike commemoration were a beautiful reminder of how far our campus has come in embracing and celebrating our diversity. We are thankful for the student leaders and others who strive in the spirit of those seven Hunger Strikers in 1995 to make us a stronger, healthier multicultural community.

Earl H. Potter III, President

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