Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Lamm calls for discussion about cultural success, achievement

If the country is to achieve a national dream of equality and prosperity for all people, all races and all cultures, we will all have to talk, former Colorado Governor and DU scholar Richard Lamm told a packed luncheon Oct. 30.

Lamm, a University professor and co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies, spoke at the first Provost’s Luncheon of the academic year, calling for a frank and open discussion about race and culture in America.

Why, he asked, are some minority groups struggling, and why are some disproportionally successful? Why do some cultures value education while others miss out?

Nearly half of all 5-year-olds in the country are African-American or Hispanic, two minority groups that have had less success academically, he said.

“Their success is crucial to the success of America,” he said. “We have to care about these kids and have an honest dialogue about their success.”

Acknowledging that he didn’t have all the answers, Lamm called for engagement and frank talk. In some cases, he said, racism remains a hurdle, but it’s not an insurmountable barrier to success. Instead, everyone involved must talk through cultural habits that seem to block some groups from academic access and ambition while other cultures pass them by, he said.

“I feel that we can’t in America wait for every minority group to self-diagnose their problems and self-diagnose their solutions,” he said.

Lamm’s presentation didn’t come without controversy.

Prior to the luncheon, students circulated a letter of opposition that expressed disappointment and said Lamm’s words are considered “injurious to historically marginalized groups” and don’t represent the campus commitment to diversity.

And about 40 students, faculty and staff stood quietly at the back of the Driscoll Ballroom, where the luncheon was held, holding posters protesting Lamm’s talk.

Student organizer Dulce Saenz said she had taken a course under Lamm and read his work. She said the students value Lamm’s right to free speech but said they were protesting his selection for a talk that they considered a lecture, rather than a panel discussion with opportunities for opposing views.

“We also want to empower the student body to stand up for what they believe in,” she said. “They can come out and take a stand.”

After the protesters filed out of the ballroom at the conclusion of Lamm’s speech, audience members engaged in about a half hour of questions and answers.

Lamm told the crowd he would welcome more discourse on the topic of youth success.

“These kids are now failing. And I think they’re failing because the dialogue is not broad enough,” he said. “Let’s have a debate. Let’s have a dialogue. I’m available.”

Upcoming Provost Luncheon speakers include Dean Emerita Ginger Maloney, who will speak at the winter quarter luncheon and Dean James Herbert Williams, who will speak at the spring luncheon. Maloney is a clinical associate professor in the Morgridge College of Education, and Williams is dean of the Graduate School of Social Work.

All of the Provost Luncheon speeches this year are tied to DU’s Bridges to the Future lecture series, which this year focuses on the theme “A Nation Still at Risk: The Future of Education.” This is the seventh year of Bridges to the Future programming. The free lecture series was created in 2002 by DU as a way to engage Coloradans in an exploration of American history, values and expectations in a post-9/11 world.

Comments are closed.