The Opportunity for Change
by Melissa Y. Rock
In the Chinese language, the character for crisis is composed of two parts. One of the parts means danger and the other part means opportunity. In understanding that society consists of dynamic events and ever-changing moments, points of crisis may arise frequently. The key to making the best out of every situation is to look at the opportunities that may be encapsulated in each crisis. Overall positive change is possible when we look further into the conditions that instigated the incident, the response that tried to mitigated the event, and what might be done about it. In a nutshell, how do we take advantage of the situation at hand and turn this opportunity into a teachable moment? How do we create effective and proactive policies and plans out of a crisis? It is because these crises indicate the need for change. They extend that the current dynamic is insufficient. This is the case at the University of Oregon with regards to the topic of diversity.
On May 18th, 1999 a diverse group of concerned students engaged in a sit-in at the University of Oregon's Johnson Hall to address the campus climate regarding issues of diversity, hate speech and hate crimes, safety, and inclusion. Though the incident was sparked by a specific classroom incident involving racial stereotyping and threats of sexual violence, students recognize that campus incidences of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression are neither isolated nor rare.
The students organized a substantive list of both proactive and reactive goals and demands in an attempt to ensure the safety of all students on campus and to promote a stronger campus climate embracing diversity and inclusion at the University of Oregon. These goals/demands were as follows:
I. Statement of Respect
II. Zero Tolerance Policy
- Revisions & Additions to Student Code of Conduct.
- Bias Response Team - Education, victim support, investigation, policy enforcement.
- Identifying, strengthening, and increasing current student and university programs/organizations and services.
III. Diversity Training programs on campus
IV. Reinstating and creating positions (and subsequent operating budgets) within the
Administration, staff, faculty, GTFF, and Multicultural Center.
V. Creation of a Research Institute for Diversity @ the Univ. of Oregon.
VI. 10 Paid Summer positions for students to work on further research & implementation of the above goals and demands.
In ensuing meetings, the University of Oregon Administration, concerned faculty and staff, and a broad group of students agreed to further research and collaborate on the proposed diversity list of goals and demands (here on out, dubbed "objectives"). Ten student interns (chosen by a committee of ASUO, student, staff, and administrative representatives) were hired by the University to continue work on these objectives over the summer of 1999. A Steering Committee was also formed of which includes a broad spectrum of University faculty, staff, administrators, and students. The Steering Committee serves as a mechanism to offer some guidance to the summer diversity interns and research in a manner that will attribute to the overall success of the University diversity objectives.
Thus the opportunity to engage in pursuing positive results from a crisis situation at the University of Oregon began. Throughout the summer, 10 student interns each researched specific subjects of University governance regarding how it could better foster a more inclusive and understanding campus climate on diversity issues via both reactive and proactive means. The culmination of the interns' summer work is exhibited, but not limited to the contents of this report. It is our hope that this report will serve as a foundation for continued dialogue and proactive change to happen at this university. We submit this to the University of Oregon President's Office under the assumption and at the urging that it be shared with the whole of the campus community.
The purpose of this initiative to further communication and understanding around issues of diversity is to be all-inclusive and engaging. Preaching to the converted is not enough. We will not be successful unless we include in our dialogues and processes representatives from all quadrants of campus and society at large. Where we need to put a great deal of our energies is into reaching the "middle majority." The middle majority are persons who appear to be, or perceive themselves to be not interested in diversity issues, feel alienated from the diversity dialogue, are interested in the topic but fearful to get involved, i.e./ those who are not hostile to the idea of diversity but/and need to be extended an invitation to join and engage in the community dialogue.
Thus, we recognize that we must invite in the opinions of those that may have alternative views. We hope to engage these views and perspectives in open and honest dialogue around issues of diversity. And we acknowledge the need to welcome the continued input and learning experiences of the middle majority. To do so would mean actually engaging in active conversation. It would mean touching on painful topics of which there will be much frustration and emotion. It also means asking tough questions of ourselves as we go through these processes.
Criticisms have been raised in the past by
conservative students that their views have not been heard. Recognizing
this current dynamic, in order to truly foster an all-inclusive dialogue
and exchange, we hope to invite in differences of opinion and viewpoint.
This initiative will only be successful to the extent that we include a
wide range of representatives from all groups. And in so doing, it
is our sincerest hope that the lines of communication will be opened and
start/continue to have productive exchange.
Definition of Diversity
The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.
Why is diversity an important component of our college education?
"A diverse educational environment challenges [students] to explore ideas and arguments at the deeper level - to see issues from various sides, to rethink their own premises, to achieve the kind of understanding that comes only from testing their own hypotheses against those of people of other views. Such an environment also creates opportunities for people of different backgrounds, with different life experiences, to come to know one another as more than passing acquaintances, and to develop forms of tolerance and mutual respect on which the health of our civic life depends."
Neil L. Rudenstine
President, Harvard University
Chronicle of Higher Education, April 19, 1996
From National to Local
The National demographics indicate that the overall percentage of people of color in the United States increase from 24.2% in 1990, to 35.7% in 2020, to 47.2% in 2050. The numbers of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered peoples in the United States are also increasing. And, of course, women comprise more than half of the population.
However, though the demographics may change, a mere
shift in the faces of the people that constitute this country, are not
enough to eradicate the uncivil behaviors and institutional neglect of
these communities. Thus the need to include and educate. Diversity
is an subject matter, not a "problem", that is increasingly being woven
into the fabric of our society. We cannot disassociate it from ourselves,
or ourselves from it. Therefore it is necessary and pertinent that
we investigate these issues as it relates to us living in the United States,
the Pacific Northwest, in Oregon, in Eugene, and at the University of Oregon.
In the Western States, projections indicate that by 2012 African-Americans will comprise 5%, Native Americans 2%, Asian Pacific Islanders 13%, Latinos 35%, and Whites 45% of the total regions' high school graduates. In Oregon projections indicate that by 2012 African-Americans will comprise 2%, Native Americans 2%, Asian Pacific Islanders 7%, Latinos 19%, and Whites 70% of the total states' high school graduates. These projections are stark reminders of the need for an all-inclusive campus environment. They indicate increasing numbers of student of color high school graduates that will be considering the University of Oregon among their choices to further their education. In order to attract these students from both Oregon and the broader western region, it is necessary that the University create and maintaining a welcoming, safe, and inclusive environment that not only challenges these students academically, but also extra-curricularly.
The campus climate regarding issues of diversity
need to be improved not only to "catch-up" with the quickly changing times,
but also to ensure equal access to higher education as well as equal rights
to a safe learning environment to which everyone is entitled regardless
of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, physical ability,
political beliefs, or other ideologies. Thus, the following statistics
reveal that much work needs to be done to address our campus climate.
* 61 percent of LGBT students say that harassment on campus was prevalent
enough for them to fear for their safety.
* 65 percent of LGBT students reported that a professor or GTF made anti-LGBT
comments in class.
* 31 percent of LGBT students have experienced verbal harassment or threats.
The issue of inclusion and safety are key in addressing campus diversity and proactive change. It is not a special interest concern to demand a safe and harassment-free education. At the University of Oregon, tuition paying students are the targets of sexist, racist, homophobic, and other forms of verbal and physical harassment. While we recognize the right to free speech and dissenting opinion, we also recognize that the University, as executor of our education, can in fact do more to create an inclusive and safe environment for its students to live, work, play, and pursue academic interests in. Equal rights are not special rights.
While the University of Oregon has maintained a higher diversified enrollment than that of Oregon's state demographics with the state of Oregon at 11.62% people of color and the University of Oregon at 11.83% , it has the responsibility as an institution of higher education to expose their student body to various learning and teaching experiences - ones of which are paralleled in larger society. Additionally, students come from across the nation, in fact, the world to attend the University of Oregon. And, upon graduation they will likely leave to further their academic or career pursuits in various sectors of society and within a diversified society and job market. To enable our students with the proper skills, abilities, and experiences equipping them to positively and effectively flourish in this increasingly diverse world, we must take conscious and strident steps towards fostering a positive campus climate on diversity issues.
Regarding the University of Oregon's large homogenous population, it will have a tough struggle ahead - throughout the ranks of the Administration, faculty, staff, and student body - in order to not only change the face of the campus composition, but also the climate that surrounds it. (See attached Campus Profile Fall 1998)
It is vital to the future of not only our campus
community, but also the welfare of our civil society that we engage in
open and honest dialogue on issues of diversity, and further enact swift,
practical, and positive change. As we are all members of the University
of Oregon campus community it is vital that we actively work towards engaging
all opinions, perspectives, and experiences in this diversity agenda.
Whether or not we are part of the problem, we can all be part of the solution!
Networking & Coalition Building:
Creating Better Lines of Communication
There are various organizations and groups in existence at the University of Oregon that are designed to address the issue of campus diversity. These include specifically and most directly, the Ethnic Student Unions, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance (LGBTA), the Multicultural Center (MCC), the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), the Associate Dean of Student Life/Multicultural Advocate, and the Women's Center. Peripherally, there are any other groups that have it in their mission statement to work on diversity issues or those that feel it necessary and important to become active in this area. However, though the University of Oregon does have some structural framework set up, there are a number of gaps/discrepancies.
Pervading all the gaps is the central notion that there is no central University mission or vision to recruit, foster, or support diversity on campus. Without a central vision to work towards, the steps taken along the way will constantly question to what ends to we hope to accomplish? This is reflected in the many times reactive incident-response creation of the aforementioned groups that exist on campus. One particular need was answered with one particular group or office. Now it has come to a point where we have a variety of "hot spots" on diversity of which are not linked in theory or practice. This is not necessarily the fault of these working groups, but is only the result of poor/ lack of planning around the broader issue of diversity and the support mechanisms that need to be in place to truly achieve the end goals.
** Therefore, it is recommended that the University work towards,
create, and adopt a central mission/vision on the future of campus diversity
- one that includes all spheres of a students life at the University of
Oregon (work, play, home, and academic spheres).
The success of this group, the Steering Committee,
relied on multiple factors.
1) The existence of the Summer Diversity Interns (SDI) was key. The 10 interns served as a concentrated working group, each appointed to a special research area.
2) Each meeting the SDI's brought information and research back to the Steering Committee for comments and questions. There was never a lack of things to discuss - only a lack of adequate time to address the complexities and multitude of topics presented to the Committee.
3) There were both immediate and long-term goals addressed with regards to diversity and the campus community. Each intern established personal short and long-term goals for their own personal internship as well as for their project as it relates to the University campus overall.
4) There was a central and consistent convener of the meetings.
5) The membership was dynamic - some attendees came and left, others came consistently. Though there were no mandatory attendance positions, recruitment of participation was solicited by the interns and made a priority to the campus community.
Since the future of the work presented in this report is as of yet undecided, and therefore the status of the Steering Committee unclear, it has been proposed that the President's Council on Race might be expanded to be the President's Council on Diversity - with sub working groups on particular areas of interest (i.e./ LGBT, race, gender, etc.).
** Regardless of the specific skeleton that might preside over
these concerns, it is most important that this central structure be set
in motion. It cannot be a mere vessel for reporting, but must be
interactive, collaborative, and empowering to all those involved.
Otherwise, it will maintain the top-down sentiment of the President's Council
on Race rather than the more leveled approach of the Steering Committee.
** Therefore, as this is the information age, it is vital that we create a University of Oregon web page on Campus Diversity as a link on the UO home page (http://www.uoregon.edu). On this Campus Diversity web page shall be the mission statement, plan of action, news articles published, campus events, links to existing organizations (i.e./ student unions, MCC, LGBTA, ASUO/MCA, OMA, Student Life, Office of Affirmative Action, etc.). Additionally, there should be links to the various Colleges within the University noting their work/ progress on the issues of diversity (i.e./ the College of Education's Ethnic Diversity Advisory Council - EDAC, and the College of Arts and Science's In-Residency program in the UO dorms). This web page will be a vital resource for prospective and current University of Oregon students, as well as Alumnus (like me) who will be searching to understand the current campus climate regarding diversity at the University and where it is headed in the future.
[Back to Reports Page]