WMU News

Race and ethnic relations institute marks new beginning

March 20, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- The Lewis Walker Institute for Race and Ethnic Relations will mark a new beginning when it conducts a public dedication ceremony and reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, in the first floor lobby of Ellsworth Hall on the Western Michigan University Campus.

The event will recognize the institute as well as reaffirm the institute's emphasis on research and its role in helping to synchronize the University's international and multicultural activities.

The Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations was established in 1990 to promote academic inquiry into the nature, causes and potential programs for the solution of racial and ethnic conflicts in American society. In 2000, it was renamed in honor of Dr. Lewis Walker, former chairperson of WMU's Department of Sociology and professor emeritus of sociology, who helped create the special research center.

Walker, the first black Ph.D. to be hired by the University, came to the faculty in 1964. A specialist in race relations, criminology, juvenile delinquency and social psychology, he retired in June 1999 after 35 years of service. Walker was tapped by former WMU President Diether H. Haenicke in 1995 to serve on a task force to clarify issues and facilitate dialogue on race relations at the University. He also has been active in the community and has served on the Kalamazoo Community Relations Board.

A plaque paying tribute to Walker will be unveiled at the March 27 dedication ceremony. The event will open with remarks by WMU President Elson S. Floyd. Also speaking will be Dr. W.F. Santiago-Valles, Walker institute director, who will describe some of the ongoing research projects being conducted by the unit's more than two dozen faculty research associates.

The ceremony will conclude with refreshments and a book signing featuring the most recent works of four research associates and two members of the institute's advisory board, including Walker, who serves as chairperson of the board.

Floyd indirectly referenced the institute's efforts during his February 2002 "State of the University" address when he announced that assessing WMU's ability to support programs and services for its increasingly diverse campus community will be one of three major new initiatives to be implemented this year.

As part of the initiative, he said he will be requesting recommendations for policy, program and structural changes that will strengthen the inclusion of all people in the University.

"While an ambitious undertaking, our tolerance and support for multicultural groups and individuals has become even more important since the events of New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.," he said during the address.

"We must strive to enhance the social and cultural interactions of diverse populations throughout our University so all individuals--students, faculty and staff alike--are genuinely welcome and valued members of our University community."

In keeping with that philosophy, Santiago-Valles says the Lewis Walker Institute for Race and Ethnic Relations has been redesigning its service-related activities and reorganizing itself to better meet its original mission of conducting research of local, state and national significance.

"We've been developing several research lines during the last year and a half, and we're now ready to make them public," he says.

"In addition, we're in the process of building a research library and are seeking donations of materials on race and ethnic relations within and outside of the United States, including textbooks, journals, photographs, and audio and video tapes. We're also looking for newspapers about Native, Arab, Latino, African and Asian Americans as well as the ethnic communities of European origin and migrants that now populate the Midwest."

To facilitate the institute's realignment, it now operates in collaboration with WMU's Diether H. Haenicke Institute for International and Area Studies. Established in 1997, this coordinating unit provides an intellectual and academic hub for the increasing number of faculty members with international expertise. It also develops interdisciplinary courses and oversees WMU's on-campus global and comparative studies programs as well as its Office of Study Abroad.

"As a whole in the United States, the international enterprise and efforts to advance multiculturalism don't usually march together," says Dr. Ronald W. Davis, Haenicke institute director.

"There are all kinds of areas where multiculturalism and internationalism relate. The Walker and Haenicke institutes are trying to find ways to bring those two efforts together and create feedback between the two that leads to synergies in writing grant applications and in other areas."

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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