A Cry For Diversity

Nune Alaverdyan | Staff Photographer

Nune Alaverdyan | Staff Photographer
Lani Guiner speaks at the White lecture for Martin Luther King, Jr. Week. Guiner was the first tenured black professor at Harvard.

Following last week’s historic inauguration of President Barack Obama, Dr. Lani Guinier spoke on using the spirit of change to enable society, concluding the week-long 25th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. symposium.
Hosted by the UC Irvine Cross-Cultural Center, Harvard law professor and civil rights activist Guinier presented the speech “Post Inauguration: Hope for the New Change” at the Crystal Cove Auditorium last Thursday, Jan. 22, as part of the annual Dr. Joseph L. White lecture series.
In the nearly full auditorium, UCI Cross-Cultural Center Director Kevin Huie, Dr. Joseph L. White and Chancellor Michael Drake provided introductory remarks.
Gunier explained that the minorities of America, the “outsiders,” represent the vulnerable members of society whose persistent problems will create problems for all. She illustrated this point by comparing the vulnerable to canaries, and the rest of society to coal miners; a century ago, coal miners would bring canaries into the mines with them as early danger warnings because the canaries’ breathing rate serves as an indicator for the miners. If the canaries die, the coal miners die.
“Talent is equally distributed among all groups,” and when one group of people are not thriving, it is indicative of a problem in society as a whole, Guinier said. Vulnerable groups throughout society need help; however, the institution itself needs to change.
New approaches are necessary to tackle problems. In New York City, female police officers contributed to the decline in crime rate in the housing projects because they were willing to mentor troublemakers and encourage them to lead a better life. In the past, women were barred from entering the police force due to the height requirement of 5 feet 10 inches.
Cooperation between diverse groups produce fruitful results for everyone. Guinier argued that even the current education system fosters a competitive environment between individuals rather than a cooperative one that encourages teamwork among students.
“Higher education has become too much like a beauty school and not enough like the Marine Corps,” Guinier said.
There are many people in society who need help, but the institution itself needs to change in order for progress to trickle down the rungs. Diversity requires teamwork and the collection of individual contributions. “We have to work together,” Guinier explained. “King … was an outsider who was challenging power. Barack Obama is now the leader of an organized government, so he is an insider exercising power. You need both, but one person cannot be both.”
“She has a great voice on the concept of inclusiveness,” Drake said of Guinier. “I think he can make an outstanding educational system.”
White, a pioneer in the field of black psychology, often referred to as the “Godfather” of black psychology by students and colleagues, and namesake of the lecture series, urged the audience to pursue change at all levels of society.
“We need to look at new models, not just in education, but also in health care, homeownership and other areas,” White said.
Virginia Marquez, a second-year international studies major, said that even after the election of Obama, “We still need more change.”
Similarly, Rachael Chatterson, a sociology graduate student, said that she would like further elaboration on the potential solutions to resolve the problems embedded in the institutional framework of America.
The Cross-Cultural Center has been hosting the annual symposium since 1988 to celebrate the values of nonviolence, unconditional love, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation in the hopes of teaching young people to ask themselves what they can do to promote social justice.