Minnesota public affairs school adds caste to non-discrimination policy

Hubert H Humphrey School is first US public affairs school to include caste to its diversity, equity & inclusion criteria

The Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota has become the first US public affairs school in the US to add caste as a diversity, equity & inclusion criteria.

The fourth school at the university to do so, it joins the College of Biological Sciences’ Graduate Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior; the English Department and its MFA program in creative writing; and the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies.

This follows the University of Minnesota’s recent campus-wide explainer on caste discrimination, which affirms that caste discrimination is not tolerated on campus, according to a statement from Equality Labs, a Dalit civil rights organization.

Read: Asian American civil rights groups support race-conscious admissions (August 3, 2022)

These are necessary next steps for the entire campus to move towards adding caste as a protected category, it said. Several other institutions from Harvard and UC Davis to Colby College, Brandeis University, have also joined the movement to end rampant caste-based discrimination of students, faculty, and staff, Equality Labs noted.

These members of university communities also join feminist scholars like the National Women’s Studies Association in creating scholarly spaces to examine caste’s intersections with other aspects of identity, it said.

Equality Labs has congratulated the Hubert H. Humphrey School on becoming the first public affairs school in the country to add caste as a protected category and the University of Minnesota becoming the first public university in the Midwest to do so.

“For this University to acknowledge the civil rights movement for caste equity and be responsive to its most vulnerable South Asian members is a powerful testament to the legacy of public universities and its future,” it said.

“In colleges and universities, caste oppressed students, faculty, and staff can and do face caste discrimination,” said Prof Sonja Thomas, Associate Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, Colby College.

“But without a mechanism for understanding caste, where can a caste oppressed student, staff member, or faculty member report or find recourse?” she asked. “This is why the HHH School of Public Affairs adding caste as a DEI criteria is so important and historic.”

Ashad (name changed for security), a graduate student at the university, recalled, “When I came to the United States for my graduate studies on a prestigious scholarship, I thought it was a new beginning, as I would no longer face the casteist humiliation and trauma that I faced growing up as a Dalit in South Asia.”

“However, that was short-lived, as I started facing the same questions about my surname, ancestral village, gods I worship, and festivals I celebrate,” he said.

“These incidents may seem very trivial to some, but they are extremely traumatic for an oppressed caste person who has grown up being bombarded with these questions from childhood.”

Expressing confidence “that this provision would act as a deterrent for caste-bigot individuals to check their biases and carry themselves responsibly in public domain,” Ashad hoped it would “encourage future applicants and students from caste-oppressed backgrounds to study in the prestigious University of Minnesota and express themselves freely and achieve global recognition.”

Read: In a first, public affairs school in US adds caste to its non-discrimination policy (September 7, 2022)

Prof V.V. Ganeshananthan, Associate Professor, Department of English, MFA Program in Creative Writing, McKnight Presidential Fellow, Human Rights Faculty, said he was “thrilled to see the Humphrey School of Public Affairs take the vital step of adding caste as a category protected against discrimination.”

“These actions lay important groundwork for the future of our research, service, and teaching, and position us to continue our tradition of attracting and supporting the most exciting and innovative scholars and artists,” he said.

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