In a first, public affairs school in US adds caste to its non-discrimination policy

The Hubert H Humphrey School of Public Affairs is the fourth school at the University of Minnesota to include caste to its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion criteria.
The Hubert H Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota
The Hubert H Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota
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The Hubert H Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota has become the first public affairs school in the United States to add caste to its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion criteria. Equality Labs, a Dalit civil rights organisation that has been helping institutions in the process of adding caste as a protected category in their non-discrimination policies, has congratulated the Humphrey School on becoming the first public affairs school in the US to do so. This also makes the University of Minnesota the first public university in the Midwestern US to declare caste a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion criteria, with the Humphrey School being the fourth school in the university to do so. 

In a press statement from Equality Labs, Ashadh (name changed), a graduate student at the University of Minnesota facing caste oppression, spoke about his experience in higher education in the US and said, “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. While some directly asked about my caste, others used proxies to determine my caste location. I was asked about my surname, ancestral village, which gods I worship and festivals I celebrate, my rank in entrance exams, whether I eat meat, and checking whether I wear a sacred thread!”

He said that his intellectual capabilities were questioned and undermined as he had availed reservation quota during his undergraduate studies. “While some might label these experiences as “trivial”, constantly facing microaggressions such as those described above are traumatic for a caste-oppressed person and have an adverse impact on their psycho-social well-being,” he said. He also said that the new caste discrimination policy at the university has important consequences, providing an institutional mechanism for caste-oppressed students to express their grievances in instances of bias or discrimination. “It would also deter caste-bigot individuals from implicitly or explicitly expressing their bias against caste-oppressed individuals and their collectives,” he said, adding that the move can create a positive environment for students from caste-oppressed backgrounds. 


Tasha Sage, Caste Equity Director at Equality Labs, said that for the university to acknowledge the civil rights movement for caste equity is a powerful testament to the legacy of public universities and their future. Several academics and scholars associated with the University of Minnesota and Humphrey School also commended the move. Richa Nagar and Sima Shakhsari, faculty members of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, said that their department had in 2021 revised its mission statement to recognise caste as a protected category.

The mission statement says: “While gender and sexuality are fundamental to our field, we recognize that our lives and identities as gendered beings are also deeply and inextricably informed by other differences (such as race, nation, caste, and disability) that intersect at the core of who we are and how we function.” It says that the department commits to “fostering an inclusive understanding of human experiences” in their “research, teaching, and engagement with communities”, and also resolved to recruit and work with students, faculty, and staff who occupy disadvantaged locations due to their race, caste, nation, gender, sexuality among other reasons. 

Apart from the Humphrey School and the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, the College of Biological Sciences' Graduate Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, and the English Department and its MFA program in creative writing have also declared caste as a protected category at the University of Minnesota. 

Earlier in January, the California State University system –  one of the largest university systems in the US – added caste as a protected category in its non-discrimination policy. The Cal State University System includes over 23 campuses and eight off-campus centres, with around 4.85 lakh students, and over 55,000 faculty and staff members. Equality Labs noted that many other institutions in the US, including Harvard, UC Davis, Colby College, Brandeis University, and others, have also added caste bias to their non-discrimination policies. “[This] urgent movement continues to expand as caste-oppressed students, faculty, and staff stand up and demand an end to rampant caste-based discrimination,” Equality Labs said. 

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