Campus-Wide Diversity Initiative To Be Unveiled

Kay Traester

Diversity. Students of color. Realizing that all of us are part of diversity and being motivated to understand that reality better. For Colgate, these issues continue to dominate campus life, particularly as the University embraces the diverse and often conflicted world of the twenty-first century. To better prepare students with diversity training and awareness beyond their collegiate education, members of the senior administration at Colgate will release a new, ground-breaking campus-wide initiative in diversity. Since coming to Colgate in 2002, University President Rebecca Chopp has been interested in diversity work on campus. Beginning last spring, she formed a Diversity Pre-Planning group, which worked throughout the semester to formulate a series of statements about diversity. The group submitted its diversity report to Chopp in August. At that time, former Provost and Dean of the Faculty Jack Dovidio left the University, turning over his responsibilities to current Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs and Dean of the College Adam Weinberg. Chopp urged both deans to move the process of creating this initiative forward. According to Roelofs, this initiative has three important themes: connectivity or the need for linkages between programs and departments (for example, between Admissions and OUS); the need for structural development in support of recruitment and retention of students and faculty of color; attention and a need to address the disparity between quantitative data and experience. These themes will help develop better coordination between different campus programs and departments. In the process, they will also allow for better systematic changes to be made to lower the barriers for bringing students of color to campus. “The origin of this initiative goes back to President Chopp, who has a long standing interest in and commitment to campus diversity,” Roelofs said. “The strategic planning process she put in place emphasizes that the twenty-first century is about diversity and difference. Students need to be educated to live and work in a diverse world. Almost all academic curriculum can be enhanced [to accommodate this need] in some way.” “When I was hired, one of the most important matters given to me by the Board of Trustees was to improve the diversity of students, faculty and staff at Colgate. As a scholar and University President, I am committed to this effort and to shaping the liberal arts within the content of a diverse campus and society,” Chopp said. The report also gives serious consideration to diversity in connection with the distribution requirements, Core curriculum and course content. Among the six faculty and administrators included in the Diversity pre-planning group was Director of the ALANA Cultural Center Jaime Nolan. While the numbers of students of color enrolled at the University continue to rise each year, she believes that the campus climate and acceptance of diverse students are still key issues. “All of our recommendations [for this initiative] point to the connectivity issue,” she said. “In order to have satisfactory and meaningful results, we must continue to develop and foster a campus climate that is truly difference-friendly.” In total, the Pre-Planning group made 73 recommendations for on-campus diversity changes and improvement. According to Roelofs, some of these recommendations will be very difficult for the University to implement. “[These recommendations] are very comprehensive and aggressive,” Roelofs said. “Some will be very challenging for the University to adopt.” To promote a wide-range of faculty and student involvement with the initiative’s implementation, Chopp directed both Roelofs and Weinberg to create a “diversity council” consisting of all interested faculty, administrators, staff and students. The council will meet monthly for two to three years and will include student representatives from various SGA-supported organizations. “Students will be involved to get a sense of the report and respond to it,” Nolan said.””Those that have been presented with it thus far are excited.” Both Nolan and Roelofs agree that student involvement is critical to the success of the initiative. They hope to involve students in as many aspects of the report’s implementation as possible. While the council will focus on various issues with the new initiative, it will not try to implement the initiative with campus life. For that purpose, a smaller executive committee will be established, which will meet frequentlyand will be comprised of senior faculty and administrators. Nolan appreciates the support the initiative has received from numerous members of the administration thus far. “It is so important [for the University] to show its support from the top down,” she said. “It is essential for the Dean of the College and Provost to be an active part of this process.” The charge for better diversity awareness and education involves a motivation element, ongoing efforts of all parties involved and an educational component centered on a new endowed faculty chair. The new faculty chair, called the Arnie Sio Chair for Diversity and Community, will be awarded on a rotating basis to a current faculty member or by invitation to a distinguished visitor. Named after Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Arnie Sio, the chair was funded by John Runnette ’54, a former member of the Board of Trustees. “This positive effort has the aim for sewing the seeds of diversity into the curriculum,” Roelofs said. Nolan agrees. “This new positionstronglyaffirms the University’s commitment to diversity and illustratesto the campus community that something has already come to fruitionwiththis initiative,” she said. This chair will be responsible for running student seminars and a faculty seminar of eight to 10 faculty members to discuss diversity issues across campus. The seminars will occur annually beginning this spring. The establishment of this chair was also a Strategic Plan goal. As the Strategic Plan states in the section entitled “Bridging Differences in a Diverse World,”””Colgate will work towards achieving a diverse community … where all groups and individuals fully benefit from educational opportunities in and out of the classroom in a multicultural environment.” According to Roelofs, the executive committee and diversity council will be largely responsible for the initiative’s systematic reform component. The committee will work with on-campus curriculum groups and the Academic Affairs Board to determine development of the University curriculum with regards to diversity. Citing that each of the initiative’s goals relates to different aspects of the University, Roelofs anticipates that the initial work of the Pre-Planning group will be rolled out to various individuals throughout the campus in the coming week. He hopes the executive committee and diversity council members will be in place by next week. Due to the unsuccessful introduction of past diversity reports to campus, both Roelofs and Nolan want the administration involved to publicize the initiative and openly communicate its recommendations to the campus community. According to Roelofs, the first meeting of the diversity council will allow a large part of campus to have the diversity report in hand. This week, Roelofs expects to notify chosen members of the executive diversity council. Modifications and substitutions will be made as necessary. A broader invitation will also go out to all faculty, administrators, staff and representatives from chosen student groups on campus. Roelofs hopes the executive committee and diversity council members will be in place by next week. Noting that some past reports on diversity at Colgate have had limited impact because they were not broadly publicized, Roelofs and Nolan that the report of the pre-planning committee be released for discussion at the first meeting of the diversity council. “This will be the right time for people to talk about things as a whole,” Roelofs said, “and to consider the recommendations in the report and whether there are other shortcomings to be addressed.” The goals of the diversity initiative, as Nolan identified, are in direct relationship to the Residential Education Vision introduced by Weinberg. Current programming from ALANA shows that progress is already being made with regards to diversity. “An end goal is to have all current and developing campus programs directly supporting and complementing the objectives of the report,” she said. So far, Nolan feels that the Pre-Planning group has been conscious of this need. Additional support from Weinberg will also prove beneficial. But with the failure of past campus-wide initiative attempts, what difference will this new diversity initiative make for students and faculty? As Roelofs emphasized, the goal of the committee is not just to study the diversity report but to actually implement what the report says. The end goal of this initiative goes back to what motivated it in the first place. “We are a small, predominantly white University,” he said, “and in many respects we still act that way, even though our population is gradually changing. Significant and systemic changes are needed so that the University better models the diverse communities its graduates will be joining to the twenty-first century and prepares them to function effectively in those settings.” Nolan believes that Colgate should view diversity as intrinsic to every aspect of University life, not as an add on. “[This diversity initiative] will create the philosophical framework necessary to help students work across differences,” she said. “Students need to learn a process and way of thinking that can be applied to many situations.