9/19/2014

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University president's comments on race stir controversy

University president's comments on race stir controversy
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard has ignited a national controversy about campus diversity with his use of the word "white."

Shepard has long championed the effort to attract more minority students to WWU, and calls the lack of diversity on college campuses a national crisis.

But the way in which he has drawn attention to the topic has offended some people.

"I think he's being very insensitive to how people are perceived based on the color of their skin," said Caleb Bonham, editor-in-chief of campusreform.org, a watchdog media organization for conservative college students.

In a convocation speech, referring to the racial make-up of the school, Shepard said, "...if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university."

And in a blog post he wrote, "In the decades ahead, should we be as white as we are today, we will be relentlessly driven toward mediocrity, or, become a sad shadow of our current self."

And on the university's website, he posed the question, "How do we make sure that in future years 'we are not as white as we are today?'"

Conservative blogs, websites, publications and commentators have picked up on the campusreform.org story. Bonham says he's been bombarded with calls, emails and tweets from students and parents upset by Shepard's words.

The president makes no apologies.

"I needed to provoke some attention," he said. "The word 'white' is a lightning rod for people's feelings," he said. "It's really important to understand the issue facing all of American higher education and that is, our country is changing."

Shepard says the number of minority high school graduates is increasing, which means a greater number of those students will be applying for college. He says WWU must attract those students to remain competitive, economically healthy, and because it's the right thing to do.

Some conservatives think Shepard's comments about diversity have been over the top.

"I think he's being very insensitive to how people are perceived based on the color of their skin," said Bonham. "It's wrong when you do it no matter what the color of the skin is."

Bonham thinks Shepard may have alienated some of the very people he's trying to reach.

"(Shepard) actually ended up creating a more divisive atmosphere by really attacking those based solely on the color of their skin," Bonham added.

Shepard says the university also received a lot of emails and calls on the topic, most from people supportive of his comments on diversity.

He said some of the comments he's received from conservative critics have contained hate language and racial epithets.

But Shepard says he welcomes a vigorous and respectful debate on the issue of diversity
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