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"It was being immersed in a diverse college setting that gave me the understanding and tools to fight for social justice."

Jana Kooren,
ACLU of Minnesota
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May 22, 2013

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision soon in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin to determine if the University of Texas can consider race as one factor, among many, in attempting to create a diverse educational experience for its students. Yet, what critics of affirmative action often gloss over is that our nation’s K-12 schools are more segregated by race and class than when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, for many students of all races and classes, college is the first time many students are enriched by a diverse environment.

Many at the ACLU have experienced firsthand how being in a diverse educational environment shaped their professional and personal lives. Here is Jana’s story.

Growing up white in North Dakota, diversity often meant Norwegians, Swedes and Germans together in one place. It was not until I went to college at Hamline University in Minneapolis/St. Paul that I truly understood the scope and breadth of diversity. Hamline University provided me with the opportunities to explore what diversity means and how racism and white privilege are thoroughly imbedded into our society’s structure. Hearing firsthand accounts of racism that my new friends of color had experienced in their lives forever changed who I am. While growing up, I had always believed in justice and felt strongly that racism and prejudice were bad. But, it was being immersed in a diverse college setting that gave me the understanding and tools to fight for social justice.

The second major impact that a diverse college setting had on me was that I had the opportunity to meet my husband. He is African-American and from New York. He and I met while working at the library on campus and there was an immediate connection. We have now been married for seven years and have two beautiful children. We live in St. Paul and have chosen to stay in the city where our children can go to schools and live in a community that is diverse and values that diversity. I feel so lucky that I am in a community where my two mixed race children can grow up and go to school in a place where there are not only other kids who look like them but also from many different backgrounds.

When I look around at my friend group (whom I mostly met while at college) I feel lucky to have friends from all walks of life. We can go from one friend’s house where they speak Sinhalese to another friend’s house where Spanish is the predominant language and my kids will still feel comfortable. I feel lucky to have met so many of the wonderful people in our lives at university and I feel thankful to have them in my life.

Growing up mixed race will not always be easy for my children. I know that one day my husband and I will probably have “the talk” with our son about what it means to be a black man in the United States. My hope is that by the time we have to have to talk (in 12 – 15 years) it will be easier than it is now. If more people had their lives enriched by diversity like I had, then maybe my children will grow up in a very different world then I did. Maybe they won’t have to experience hate crimes like so many of my friends have and maybe they will never have to have “the talk” with their children.

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