Hundreds of Western Washington University students marched through campus Monday afternoon to voice support of a more diverse university.
Officials estimated that about 700 students took part in the rally.
Western became the center of controversy two weeks ago after right-wing media commentators picked up on Western President Bruce Shepard’s call to draw a more diverse group of students because of the state’s changing demographics. ““If we are as white in 10 years as we are today, Western will have failed as a university,” Shepard said. Western’s enrollment is about 76 percent white.
Radio talk-show hosts and right-wing media sites mocked Shepard for his comments. Later, several protesters showed up on campus with signs that read “diversity=white genocide.”
Student Danyal Lotfi-chahardeh, one of the organizers of the march, said Western students wanted to counter the negative messages and have a chance to speak.
“Today’s rally was really a chance to showcase the importance of diversity for us,” said Lotfi-chahardeh, who said students defined diversity as a concept that went beyond race and included physical abilities, background and gender.
Ten people spoke during the rally, including students, professors, community members and Bellingham City Councilwoman Roxanne Murphy, who is a member of the Nooksack tribe and the first person of color ever elected to the Bellingham council.
“It was a chance for us to reclaim our space,” said Lotfi-chahardeh, a political science major.