Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page speaks on diversity

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Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and NFL MVP Alan Page speak on diversity and discrimination.

Page speaks on recognizing our bias and being intentional about challenging them

On Sept. 23, former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan C. Page was the first speaker for the Learning the Language of Diversity and Meaningful Inclusion program. The event was held through a Zoom call, where over 130 participants virtually attended. The program is sponsored by the Northern Plains Ethics Institute (NPEI) at NDSU; the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; and the YWCA Cass Clay and Humanities ND.

According to NPEI, this project is intended to create a series of conversations about racism. The goal is to educate students and other attendees about the issues and complexities involved, as well as help them build skills and values that provide a positive benefit for themselves and their communities.

Football Career

Page graduated from Canton Central High School in Ohio in 1963. He studied at the University of Notre Dame while having a successful football career. He graduated with a B.A. in political science in 1967 after leading the school’s football program to the 1966 national championship. He was a first-round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings in 1967 and played for them until 1978, where he spent his last three years playing for the Chicago Bears. 

Page played in 218 consecutive games and earned All-Pro honors six times. He was voted to nine consecutive Pro Bowls and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1971, becoming the second defensive player in history to receive this title. In 1988 Page was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and in 1993 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

A Second Career in Law

Page continued his education after his football career, earning his J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1978. He worked for several years as an attorney before being one of the few associate justices ever to be elected to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992, rather than being appointed by the governor. Page was reelected in 1998, 2004 and 2010 and served until the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2015. In 2018 Page received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Speaking on Diversity

Page spoke on many issues involving racism and discrimination as well as the current pandemic and policing issues. 

“It’s difficult [to talk about race] because no one wants to be perceived as a racist. The fact is that all of us have bias. The question is how all of us as individuals and society deal with those biases,” Page said. 

Page said that his mentor always told him to “never whisper justice” and that he always tried to live up to that. “Justice is about treating people fairly,” Page said. “We all have biases and to eliminate those biases, we have to be intentional about it.”

Page gave an anecdote from when he was younger when the children in his neighborhood would bully a particular boy who was effeminate. From this experience, Page realized that if he were to expect other people to treat him fairly, then he should treat others with that same fairness. “Do good, avoid evil. Seek excellence, not for the sake of the reward, but for the sake of achieving your highest self. Respect others, respect yourself and be honest,” Page said.

“The more views that you have coming from different perspectives, the richer the thinking is, the better the decision making is and the better the decisions that are made are,” Page said. “We enrich each other. We actually fail ourselves when we don’t enrich each other.”

Speaking on the Pandemic

Page spoke about COVID-19 and how he is stunned at the lack of national leadership and the lack of a national plan to deal with the pandemic. “Everybody’s doing something different. There is no coordinated effort,” Page said. “We are all entitled to our own opinions. We are not entitled to our own facts.”

“The facts are that the use of masks reduces the transmission of the virus, both to those wearing the mask and the people around them,” Page said. “I can’t go to a grocery store without shoes, they won’t let me in. What’s the difference? I don’t see it. I fail to see it.”

Page said that the more views we have, and the more we examine, explore and challenge those views, the better we are about coming to a conclusion. “The diversity of who we are as people makes us all better,” Page said.

Speaking on Privilege

Page said that any privilege that someone may have is a result of past discrimination. Page explained that the law is grounded in decisions that have been made in the past and that those decisions are the foundation of our law.

“Our original constitution classified slaves as three-fifths of a person. Our law was developed around those principles. And you think back, our country was grounded in slavery,” Page said. “The law, when slavery was abolished, was still grounded in slavery.”

“I didn’t own slaves. I didn’t create this system. The fact is that while you didn’t, you are in the position that you are in because of the way the system has developed,” Page said. “How do we lift those that have been a victim of this system? How do we put them on a level playing field? That is the challenge we face. It is incumbent on each and every one of us to look internally and look at what role we play and how we can bring about change.”

Page said that putting someone on a level playing field does not mean that somehow someone else is being treated less fairly or that they are losing something. 

“We all have our differences. We have our own skills and abilities,” Page said. “Not everybody has the skills to be President of NDSU or a Supreme Court justice, but just because you don’t have those skills, it doesn’t mean you are less of a person, it just means you are a different person.”

Page said that it is our responsibility to intentionally make sure that our own personal biases are kept in check and to challenge others when their biases are not in check. “We need to figure out how we are going to ensure that as a society, we have rules in place that treat everyone fairly. We need to make sure that the use of force is commensurate to the situation that arises.”

Page recognized that the use of force is a tool that can be used by the police and law enforcement, but said that there are other tools that we can go to before using deadly force. 

“The police, the law enforcement actions that underlie much of this unrest, is done in our names. It is incumbent on the costs that each of us and all of us bring an end to it,” Page said.

Page Education Foundation

In 1988 Page and his wife Diane Sims Page founded the Page Education Foundation, a non-profit organization that assists Minnesota students of color in their pursuit of post-secondary education. To date, the foundation has awarded $15 million in grants to 7,000 students. 

“For over 30 years, the organization has created heroes through education and service by encouraging Minnesota students of color to pursue post-secondary education. In exchange for financial support, recipients, known as Page Scholars, contribute to our community by mentoring younger children in kindergarten through eighth grade.” the Page Education Foundation website states.

After a decorated football career and a respectable career in law, Page continues to uplift those who have suffered from the hands of discrimination and systemic racism. Page holds the firm belief that we are all always works-in-progress and that we need to recognize our biases and privileges.

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