Scholars discuss diversity, university

    UCSD students, staff and faculty members gathered together at the 2003 Diversity Summit in Price Center Ballroom on Feb. 7 to discuss issues of ethnic diversity and community for institutions of higher education.

    Tibora Girczyc-Blum
    Guardian

    “”I’m happy to see so much attention being focused on diversity in higher education,”” said Chancellor Robert C. Dynes in his welcome speech. “”Although not everyone agrees yet, I think there’s a general national consensus that we cannot truly educate people in this multicultural nation if we do not build multiculturalism in the colleges and universities of this nation.””

    The Diversity Summit was the culminating event of 18 months of discussion by the 18-member Diversity Ad Hoc Planning Committee formed by the chancellor.

    The summit included presentations from guest speakers who had done research on racial and ethnic interactions.

    Walter Allen, a professor of sociology at UCLA, introduced his colleagues and emphasized the unique quality of the roundtable approach to facilitate diversity discussion.

    “”Recognized in your approach is the very clear reality that we are all in this together,”” Allen said. “”Not only will our future be shaped by diversity, but the present is also very much shaped by diversity. Simply put, we sink and swim together.””

    Jeff Milem, an associate professor and graduate program director at the University of Maryland, presented his research on providing a framework to understand diversity in campus learning environments.

    He emphasized the impact of sociohistorical and institutional forces on students and claimed that changing admission rates was not the only step for improving campus diversity.

    “”Most institutions focus on only one element of the fight … on increasing the numbers of racial ethnic students on the college campus,”” Milem said. “”Although this is an important first step in the process, it cannot be the only step in the process. There are other key elements that require attention.””

    Grace Carroll, the associate director at Howard’s University Center for the Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk, discussed the social stress that minorities face at universities as a result of their ethnicity.

    “”Often, one of the big issues around communities of color or low-income families is that they’re perceptive that there’s no safety net,”” Carroll said. “”You mess up, and you go back into the vast void of all the stereotypic images that people hold of your community.””

    Margaret Bonous-Hammarth, a research associate at UCLA, presented her research on the role of organizations, coalitions and agencies in promoting campus diversity.

    “”If one piece of your diversity plan fails for outreach and recruitment, the public out there is not going to perceive [it as], ‘Oh! It’s only one little piece.’ The public perception is that UCSD is not a welcoming institution for folks outside of particular culture groups,”” Bonous-Hammarth said.

    After the research presentations, those present at the summit split off into four groups for a short roundtable session. During these sessions, the groups addressed the challenges and patterns of racial interaction at UCSD, as well as strategies to create a “”more affirmative development environment.””

    Despite the efforts characterized by the summer, many felt that there were still other steps to be taken toward improving campus diversity.

    “”I think the fact that even this is not the end of it is a good sign,”” said Ross Frank, an associate professor of ethnic studies at UCSD.

    Dynes said that diversity needs to be incorporated more readily into the university community.

    “”Diversity in higher education should not be relegated to programs here and an event there,”” Dynes said. “”It really has to be a part of everything we do. It has to be a part of our fiber; it has to be a part of our infrastructure.””

    Harpeet Singh, a senior at Thurgood Marshall College and vice president of the African-American Student Union, felt the time had been worthwhile and well-spent.

    “”I think [the conference] was positive interaction,”” he said. “”Relative to other diversity events that I’ve been to, I think this is one of the better events.””

    In addition to the “”Building Community”” program, a mini-grant fund has been created to support campus programs and activities that celebrate diversity and community at UCSD. Six mini-grants have been awarded to student organizations and campus departments.

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