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Access New Key to Race Relations

For Director of Minority Affairs Archie Ervin, this means two words -- access and diversity.

"(Our vision) will be one that focuses on how we can better extend the educational opportunities of our campus," Ervin said.

He cited the Board of Governors' January approval of a plan that aims to promote better access to the entire UNC system as evidence of commitment to this progress, which will evolve during the next five to 10 years.

"We will make a special effort to the sector of the community and state where we're not doing as well -- that does coincide with racial and ethnic (students) but primarily on those of (lesser) economic-social status," Ervin said.

Advocating for and working toward increased diversity in incoming students will be coupled with promoting campus policies, a diversity-minded environment and education at UNC, Ervin said.

While not responsible for overseeing this broad spectrum, Ervin is involved with the Committee on Community and Diversity.

This 13- to 14-member advisory committee to the chancellor, which was created in the fall of last year, will provide recommendations to University officials on diversity.

As an example, Ervin said the committee could analyze the cultural diversity curriculum requirement or examine the importance of having a diverse faculty.

The committee must have a minimum of two student members, but Ervin said he and other committee members aim to involve more students.

Tyra Moore, president of the Black Student Movement, said she agreed to join the committee in November, shortly after its conception, because she felt the group was moving in a necessary direction.

"I guess one of the reasons was because it was not (one of the BSM's) direct 22 demands but in the overall theme of the (UNC) administration taking steps to find out what's going on in campus.

"I think the administration needs to make a public investment in improving the overall diversity in this community."

The BSM issued 22 demands to the late Chancellor Michael Hooker on Nov. 14, 1997 in reference to race relations on campus.

Moore said the hard work required in serving on the committee helps push the administration to improve diversity in the campus community -- what she describes as a key component to its social structure.

"I think in the late Chancellor Hooker era the focus was on improving the intellectual community, but I think the social aspect of the community plays a very important role as well," she said.

Journalism Professor Chuck Stone said administrative advocation for racial issues, such as affirmative action, was stronger when he first arrived at UNC in 1991 and that UNC-system President Molly Broad has been cautious in her approach to these issues.

But improvement does exist in the increase of minority students -- specifically blacks and Hispanics -- on campus, said Harry Amana, a journalism professor.

Amana, who has worked at UNC for 21 years, points to the naming of Tate-Turner Kuralt and Jackson halls after blacks as signs of improvement in the last 10 years.

But another building's planned existence on campus has served as both a symbol of advancement and a lightning rod for criticism. In April, construction will begin on the freestanding Sonja H. Stone Black Cultural Center.

Amana, who is also the acting director of the BCC, said some of the highlights that will be featured in the building are two classrooms, a small art gallery, a 10,000-volume library, a dance studio, the Institute of African-American Research, a suite for Upward Bound -- a program which reaches out to African-American, Hispanic and Native American high school students -- and a 400-seat auditorium.

The existence of the building, Amana said, could help better race relations on campus.

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"It's almost going to force people to move in a different circle," he said. "Even if people wouldn't normally go (to the freestanding BCC), they may have class in the building."

Lorie Clark, program coordinator and publicist for the BCC, said the freestanding structure will not change the function of the center but will enhance its capabilities.

"We will continue to provide the type of performances but without the worries of space concerns," Clark said.

She said she also hopes it will serve as a place of pride for all students.

"Our aim is not to segregate but to integrate and encourage all students to learn about the African-American experience and culture."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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