URI Multicultural Fellows to host chief of U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights

KINGSTON, R.I.– October 22, 1999 — The University of Rhode Island Multicultural Faculty Fellows will host a Nov. 3 visit by a top federal official called by the The Chronicle of Higher Education a “Lightning Rod on Civil Rights.” Norma Cantu, chief of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, will speak in a forum free and open to the public Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Cantu, who was profiled in a Chronicle issue last month, is described as a key U.S. official who has “changed the debates over affirmative action, testing, desegregation and athletics.” The story in the Chronicle, the premier weekly covering higher education, continues saying, “While most Americans don’t know who she is, many college officials consider her the most aggressive-and fearsome-advocate of minority, disabled and female students in the last 20 years.” Cantu was nominated by President Bill Clinton and sworn in on May 24, 1993 as the assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education, Cantu is responsible for enforcing the federal civil rights statutes that protect the rights of students to equal educational opportunities without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age. The civil rights laws extend to a wide range of educational institutions that receive federal funds. These include nearly every school district and college and university in the country as well as proprietary schools, libraries, museums, and correctional facilities. The assistant secretary’s litigation experience includes a long record of advocacy in the areas of educational equity and school finance reform. From 1985 until joining the Department, Cantu was the regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, based in San Antonio, Texas. From 1983 to 1992, she also served as national director of the fund’s Education Litigation and Advocacy Project, acting as lead counsel in a number of education-related lawsuits. Cantu was a public school teacher in 1974 and again in 1979. In addition, she has been active with many San Antonio community organizations including the Center for Hispanic Health Policy Development, the Texas Human Rights Commission, and the City of San Antonio Health Facilities Commission. She has received a number of awards, including the Public Policy Recognition Award (San Antonio) and special citations from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Hispanic Business magazine’s 100 Influentials. Cantu graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree from Pan American University in 1973, and from Harvard Law School (at age 22) in 1977. “We invited her because she raises relevant issues to the University community,” said Josephine Moreno, assistant professor of textiles, fashion merchandising and design and URI Multicultural Fellow. “One of her areas of expertise is Title IX, the federal law that guarantees equal access to education at those institutions receiving federal funds,” Moreno said. “She’s incredibly engaging, and we invite the public and all of the URI community, students, faculty and staff, to be a part of the dialogue.” -xxx- For Further Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116