Last Wednesday, 22 students vocalized their frustrations to a sympathetic peer audience in the first of two student-facilitated forums entitled “What is Diversity?”
The forum revealed students’ collective sentiment of dissatisfaction and disappointment regarding the state of campus diversity, which many believe has been marginalized by the reconstruction of Alumni Hall and other administrative priorities. It is part of an overarching initiative to address inequality, discrimination and a lack of diversity in the curriculum. Another major issue is the lack of support for students that have traditionally been overlooked due to their minority status, which includes students of color, LGBT students and students with disabilities.
For international student and sophomore Srichandra Masabathula, the college does a good job of bringing students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives but does not always fully “exploit” this strength. He notes how Chinese Club, for example, consists of mostly Chinese students who “do their own thing.” He desires greater integration between cultural clubs for more interaction between international students and Americans as a whole.
“Students really forget that they should take advantage of the other diverse groups instead of just sticking to their own people,” he said.
Studying the works of non-white researchers and scholars was particularly important for sophomore ChanTareya Paredes, an active member of the Diversity Initiative. Fortunately, faculty response to her concerns about diversifying curriculum material has been positive and receptive, at least within the education department. Paredes also wants to revamp Freshman Orientation Week and place greater emphasis on sexual assault prevention education — a topic she believes is hardly ever discussed aside from freshman orientation and Flunk Day orientation.
Junior Allie Fry is also concerned that students, especially those dealing with traumatic experiences of sexual assault or mental illness, do not get enough support from the understaffed Health Center. The fact that all three counselors are white is also a cause for concern for Fry since students of color may not feel comfortable disclosing their feelings to someone they may not identify with.
Paredes, Fry and other students would also like for faculty and staff to receive more multicultural diversity training on a regular basis. “Cultural diversity is always changing, it’s not something that you’re perfect at . . . you can always improve on something,” Parades stated.
Several students voiced the importance of a department’s location on campus, stating that the Africana Studies Department’s location in the athletics building symbolically marginalizes the department and speaks poorly of the school’s priorities concerning diversity. Tianna Cervantez, the director of multicultural advisement and a Knox alum, has heard similar complaints about the locations of the Center of Human Rights, Casa Latina and ABLE since they are situated in the “outskirts” of campus.
Cervantez cites the logistical constraints that often determine placement but recognizes how “the school can do better with the intentionality of its planning” by being more conscious about how students may perceive administrative action and including them in the conversation. “Students in college are learning a lot about themselves for the first time. So then as an institution, how are we set up to support them in redefining themselves?”
Suggestions voiced in the forum include creating more opportunities for students to discuss culturally sensitive topics in informal and safe environments, reevaluating which courses fulfill the diversity credit and scrutinizing whether a course truly adheres to the teaching of diversity in a meaningful way, offering more financial aid workshops and networking opportunities for multicultural and first generation students, increasing the budgets of culturally-oriented programs (such as the Africana and Gender and Women’s studies departments) and revitalizing the Health Center and the Center for International Life by providing larger facilities and hiring more staff from diverse backgrounds.
The faculty-run Diversity Committee is in the position to address these student concerns. Senior Maricruz Osorio regularly attends these meetings and strongly believes that the college does not always live up to its claims of diversity. “To say that racism is no longer a problem is false and misleading. It’s problematic as illustrated on this campus that we, one, don’t know how to identify them; two, don’t know how to call them; and three, don’t know how to deal with them.”
According to Associate Professor of Political Science Daniel Beers, one of the Diversity Committee’s overarching goals is to build a case illustrating how national trends about the social problems minority groups face manifest itself on campus. Since his time serving on the committee, Beers has been a proponent for more faculty education to better understand how to address student needs in a tactful and meaningful way. Doing so, he says, would be very beneficial for him, both personally and professionally. “Diversity impacts everything,” he says, and warns that “it’s easy to look past these things.”
Another ongoing debate is defining what exactly diversity entails and, conversely, what it does not entail. For some, diversity broadly encompasses all forms of differences, such as multiplicity in political views, religions and cultures, while others view such a broad characterization as diluting the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic factors of diversity, factors that play major roles in creating or destroying opportunities for minority groups.