Changing the university demographics

Meredith Somers

According to university statistics, the Quinnipiac campus has always been predominantly white, and no, this is not because of a never-ending snow storm.

The class of 2008 contains only 8.5 percent of non-white students. Last year, the same percentage held true in the combination of freshmen and transfer students. In 1998, only 7.5 percent of those groups were anything other than Caucasian, and in 1990 the number was at two percent.

On Jan. 25, the university began taking steps to change these low numbers by creating the Committee on Diversity. Headed by co-chairs Joan Isaac Mohr, vice president of admissions, and Kathleen McCourt, senior vice president of academic affairs. The committee’s goal is “to promote knowledge of and respect for diversity and multiculturalism in all aspects of the university community and to achieve by 2010 a diversity profile comparable to that of peer institutions.”

The Committee was created as an answer to the retirement of Virginia Hughes, the director of the multicultural program at Quinnipiac.

“We didn’t want to just fill the position. We wanted to plan for the future,” McCourt said.

The Committee on Diversity is divided into five sub-committees composed of students and faculty [both are either volunteers and the requested] who explore all aspects of diversity within the school.

Professor Chad Nehrt, director of the freshman international business program, said, “There were too few people dealing with the issue. We needed more diversity within the committee.”

Nehrt is a member of the sub-committee called Creating an Inclusive Campus Fostering Civility and Respect.

Their goal focuses on the importance of respect and acceptance of diversity both in and out of the classroom.

“Diversity means a variety of viewpoints. It means better teamwork and class discussion,” Nehrt said.

Before diversity can contribute to academic and campus life, there must first be an effort to get a variety of people into the university. The two sub-committees focused on that task are Student Recruitment and Retention, and Faculty and Staff Recruitment and Retention.

“Our job for Student Recruitment and Retention is to look at why some students choose Quinnipiac, and why some don’t,” Stephanie Gonzalez, sophomore Student Recruitment Committee member and president of the Latino Cultural Society, said.

“We look at ways to keep students here and, at the same time, how to recruit more diverse students,” Gonzalez said.

The lack of diversity among staff and faculty is not lost upon the university.

“In regards to the people who work here, there are definitely patterns of representation [at Quinnipiac],” Nancy Worthington, Faculty and Staff Recruitment sub-committee member and media studies Professor said.

Worthington and her fellow committee members are studying each school at the university to see which one has been most successful in regards to diversity, and how that school did so.

Integrating diversity into the classroom is a task in itself, but making sure each school in the university is diverse becomes another obstacle.

When Xiaohong He, co-chair of the Curriculum sub-committee, decided to have the deans of each school interviewed on the subject of diversity, she came to a startling conclusion.

“The schools incorporated diversity into their class lessons, but each definition of diversity was unique. There was no consensus,” He professor and chair of the international business department , said.

This finding has led He to find ways for all students to understand what diversity really means.

“We need to make sure the students understand [diversity] because they are the ones who will benefit,” He said.

That job falls to the sub-committee for Awareness in Student Life.

Co-chaired by journalism professor Margarita Diaz and Cindy Long Porter of residential life, the Committee focuses on how students view the current and future situation of diversity on campus.

“We’re asking questions and listening,” Diaz said. “We’re getting a sense of what students want to see on the campus. How they perceive diversity, and how it affects them.”

The Committee on Diversity has over 40 members, and each sub-committee has its own agendas and goals.

With the unique goals of each sub-committee and the different backgrounds and personalities of each committee member, all can agree on the notion that this new committee can do nothing but benefit the school.

“Diversity is good for everyone,” Worthington said.

He agrees. “After school, the key for students is to be flexible and open-minded about change. Diversity will give them the tools to do so.”

The next meeting for the entire committee will be on April 11, where each sub-committee will present drafts and recommendations to be given to the president of the university to review over the summer.