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Letter to the Editor

Our diverse university

To the editor: On 17 March 1929, W.E.B. Du Bois, who cofounded (1905) the Niagara Movement, which became (1909) the NAACP, essentially demolished the white supremacist Lothrop Stoddard in a Chicago debate on “Shall Africa Americans be Encouraged to Seek Cultural Equality.” A subtext of this debate was Black intellectual ability. According to an article by Ian Frazier in the New Yorker, Lothrop was practically laughed off the stage by a not particularly racially sensitive audience and refused to debate Du Bois ever again. Frazier muses that had these debates continued, we might never have had nutcase Eugenics theories by elite Nobel Prize winners like Shockley and Watson on superior white intellect.

Du Bois was one of the great intellectuals of the early 20th century who just happened to be Black. Moreover, his career highlights just how hypocritical the Eastern intelligentsia is regarding racism. In the 20th century until about the ‘60s Ivy League universities were not racially or ethnically diverse, and occasional Black graduates like Du Bois (Ph.D. Harvard, 1895) were rare. As Du Bois illustrates, this was not due to lack of intellectual ability but rather due to discrimination. This was especially true after the strengthening of segregation by the racist Woodrow Wilson administration. Moreover, even after these universities were opened up via federal anti-discrimination laws, Justice Clarence Thomas (Yale Law School, 1974) argues in the “Created Equal” PBS special that minorities’ degrees were discounted by claims that Black and Native minorities were there only because of affirmative action.

Particularly in higher education, diversity in all forms is necessary to attain academic excellence and to provide a true education. We are fortunate that, unlike the socially stratified Eastern United States, in ethnically diverse Alaska our three different major university campuses in Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage offer an excellent educational opportunity available regardless of race or ethnicity. Any Alaska citizen with the will to learn can get a first-rate education in the University of Alaska system at a modest cost. Let’s all hope our governor doesn’t destroy one of the crown jewels of Alaska just to save a few bucks.

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