September 13, 2012Vol. 43, Issue 1

Two Weeks Toward a More Cohesive Campus Community

The second cohort of the CSU, Chico Diversity Academy met for two weeks this July, sequestered for seven and a half hours each day and struggling with how to address diversity issues on campus and beyond. I was among the 23 staff and faculty members around the Selvester’s tables, and the experience has transformed the way I work.

Perhaps most important to my own transformation was owning up to my blind spots. I just didn’t see the range of issues faced by diverse students and others on campus. I didn’t think about systems of power and privilege. And I didn’t see how a continual negotiation of “small” roadblocks robs someone of the energy, time, and social capital necessary for success.

I thought of my own months as a breastfeeding mother and the amount of time I spent tracking down a place in Kendall Hall to pump. Wrangling for access to a private office, an electrical outlet, a sanitary place to sit—it took time away from my job. This meant less access to supervisorial support, less time spent networking, less ability to ask for a raise or other performance rewards.

Not to mention the awkwardness inherent in asking permission to perform a basic biological function.

When those small indignities are compounded—for mothers who are pumping and unable to afford reliable childcare and are still learning English, for example—it is very difficult to get beyond the basics of survival.

Academy participants also looked very (uncomfortably) closely at our own prejudices, our own, often subtle, participation in systems of oppression. (Think you don’t share these implicit biases? Check out this Harvard test.)

For me, the biggest difference in my approach to my job since the Diversity Academy has been in figuring out a way to move beyond a numbers approach to diversity—towards a focus on access to opportunity. I don’t directly impact student access to education, but my work has still changed in countless small ways.

One example is the way I approach scheduling photo shoots. Before the Diversity Academy, I set a time and location and asked the subjects to be there. After the academy, I was suddenly conscious that I was making some major assumptions about the people we photograph. I assumed they could climb down to the creek or fit comfortably in a standard classroom desk or balance on stairs for the duration of a shoot.

Now, I ask about their comfort level and physical constraints before meeting them on location. It’s a simple thing, a tiny shift in the way I think about access. But it can eliminate major hassles for my subjects with physical disabilities.

But it’s not just me. Everyone in the intensive seminar said they felt changed—reenergized, connected to the campus in a new way, and recommitted to a broader definition of diversity. Here are a few of their responses:

[In my everyday work] I am more in tune to my sensitivity regarding diversity. I recognize it more. I am aware of it more. This helps me help those that don’t know how to ask for help or don’t know there are services, choices, or advice specifically suited for their needs.

Anyone who is passionate about helping our students can surely profit from the academy. The more people who are involved with these opportunities, the more our campus progresses toward inclusiveness. Words carry, ideas are fostered, relationships are made, and goals are formulated.

—Adelle DeMasi, Admissions

The Diversity Academy really brought to life for me the seminal quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” I learned how important it is not to be silent about injustice, even and especially when it may seem like something small. Injustices are never really small. There are many students, faculty, and staff who experience a barrage of microaggressions. The Diversity Academy helped participants better understand both our own privilege and challenges we have all faced when it comes to power and privilege.

I have made new connections with faculty and staff members who are committed to being their best in the jobs that they hold on campus.

The Diversity Academy helped us to unmask our advantage and think about ways we can collectively ensure that everyone at Chico State is supported in their academic and professional endeavors.

—Mimi Bommersbach, Counseling and Wellness Center

The cohort is filled with myriad personalities, passions, ideas, and energy—I cannot wait to see what we can accomplish in the name of diversity. Without the Diversity Academy, I would not have been challenged by such great people.

—Joshuah Whittinghill, Multicultural and Gender Studies and Educational Opportunity Program

Being an adjunct faculty in child development, I was focused on reframing my thoughts around how the topics that we discussed during Diversity Academy were applicable to the content that I teach. The wonderful opportunity that I am given to interact with many freshmen and sophomores in my GE child development course affords me with an amazing platform to engage students in critically examining their own experiences and beliefs, while presenting some ideas that they may not have considered before. Trusting relationships in the classroom are key if we hope to impact students in a deep and authentic way. This was modeled beautifully during Diversity Academy, and I look forward to continuing this engagement with my students for years to come.

—Valerie Singleton, Child Development

I can't say enough about how valuable the Diversity Academy was to my personal and professional development. I came away from the experience with a heightened sense of the systems of privilege and oppression that operate to impact most areas of life. I was able to examine my own biases and positions of privilege in a safe space thanks to the expertise of Diversity Academy facilitator, Susan Shaw.

I have a renewed commitment to bringing these issues into classroom discussions, scholarship endeavors, and interactions with colleagues related to student recruitment/retention, student learning outcomes, hiring practices, RTP guidelines, assessment, and how to create more inclusive communities for learning. The Diversity Academy provided an opportunity to develop the skills needed to navigate difficult discussions, and provided readings and assignments that I can use immediately. 

A highlight for me was the interaction that occurred between staff and faculty. I gained a deep appreciation for the positions of privilege on our own campus, and the need for continued conversations and understanding the role that all members of our campus community play in advancing the University's mission. Our cohort is committed to continuing these conversations, and I look forward to seeing what will transpire.

—Michelle Morris, Nutrition and Food Sciences, Dietetic Internship Director

The first cohort had similar responses, and they have had a year to fulfill the course objective to “transform at least one course or professional activity to be reflective of their new perspective on difference and power.”

One example of this is in Adrienne Scott, curator of education at the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology. Like most of the academy applicants, she says, she worked with diversity issues on campus and was looking for a refresher course and connection with others on campus.“Like everyone, I thought I knew a lot about diversity,” she says.

But the experience was eye-opening for Scott. “I became aware of how segregated my work life really is and how far I still need to reach to live up to the commitment and value I have for creating a safe and diverse learning atmosphere at Chico State,” she says. “I came away with a newfound awareness of the work that can and could be done to improve diversity within the student body and improve current dialogue with students, faculty, and staff.”

She started that work almost immediately, revamping the process for building a Day of the Dead altar in the museum. The project was already in the works, but after the Diversity Academy, Scott realized that it could only be meaningful if she involved the campus Latino/a population. She contacted student and campus organizations through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and 15 different groups came to the first planning meeting.

“It took a lot of patience and respect building to keep the process on track,” says Scott. It also meant listening and responding when these groups said that an altar was not enough to tell the story of being Hispanic in Chico.

In the end, Scott and the museum, in coordination with campus groups including MESA/Educational Talent Search and the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center, put on a six-part multifaceted campus program. Events included two student panels on what it means to be Chicano, Latina, or Hispanic in Chico—attended by 175 people—and a culminating tamale feed for 300.

“Day of the Dead became a celebration of life,” says Scott of the experience, adding, “None of this would have happened if I had not attended the inaugural Diversity Academy.”

Tracy Butts, English, the campus’s chief diversity officer, echoes the idea that the Diversity Academy is an effective way to build connections across campus, in addition to strengthening diversity competency and understanding how to build a more inclusive campus community. “This helps build a support network of people engaging in the same kind of efforts,” she says. For example, faculty don’t often meet student services staff, and so they don’t necessarily know where to send students in need of help. The academy helps break down those divisions, and boosts morale in the process.

“This is one of the very few things we can do and get the same result [as sending people to a conference] for less money, with more contact hours,” says Butts of the University’s continued support of the Diversity Academy.

The Diversity Academy was designed and taught by Susan Shaw, director of the School of Language, Culture, and Society at Oregon State University. It was sponsored by the Office of the President, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, University Advancement, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. ■

—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications