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I’m writing to offer a different perspective in response to Zenon Zawada’s article on issues of race and cultural diversity at predominantly white universities in the city, “Ebony and Ivory Tower,” (4/11). For nearly 30 years, I have been a member of the art faculty at what is now the University of the District of Columbia. (I started with what was then Federal City College in 1968.) I am white, UDC is predominantly African-American, and I want to bear witness to my experiences there.
Simply put, I have always been treated with courtesy by strangers, and with warmth from colleagues and students. I have been an engaged and active faculty member in the life of the institution, and have not avoided controversy. I have disagreed with fellow faculty, with the administration, and with the board of trustees, but nothing has suggested to me that my race was the source of disagreement.
There have been white students in my courses, varying in age, in gender, and in their life experiences, and they have participated fully. There has been openand sometimes difficultdiscussion of race, of bigotry, of cultural difference, and of the legacy of slavery and colonialism. Anger and pain are sometimes manifest, but not insults. There is also much that is mutually shared and enjoyed.
I recognize the inherent irony in writing this letter, and, in fact, I hesitated to do so. Why should it be noteworthy that human beings treat each other well? Yet if Zawada’s article made a point, I felt I should make the counterpoint. As an individual, I have learned much about race and grace. Perhaps other institutions could learn from UDC.
Professor of Art
University of the District of Columbia