Departments improve campus diversity

Julia Perkins

Quinnipiac University developed a plan to promote diversity on campus after the New England Association of Schools and Colleges reported how the university could improve its commitment to diversity.

The association that grants accreditation to public and private schools’ report in December 2009 stated: “an infused approach with a foundation of data to inform decision-making and preparation for a diverse student body will be helpful in enhancing the cultural sensitivity of the staff and faculty through training and development.”

After this report, the university launched the Strategic Plan for Inclusiveness, Multiculturalism and Globalism in Education (IMaGinE). This template explains how each department on campus can become more respectful of difference, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Diane Ariza said. The plan focuses on the goals of growth and sustainability, campus climate and accountability.

Beginning this September, each department, or unit, will begin to create their own IMaGinE Plan. The units will have a liaison to the IMaGinE advisory board, who will help the departments formulate a draft of their plan by April.

The intent of these plans is to figure out where the units want to be in the future.

This academic year, the class of 2017 is made of 18 percent of underrepresented students, which is the highest yet, Ariza said. However, the IMaGinE Plan is about more than just increasing the number of minority students on campus.

“Just having a diverse population does not provide you with a more well-rounded global citizen,” she said. “You have to have faculty that know how to ask the questions. You have to have extracurricular activities that get students out of their comfort zone. Checking the box is not going to get us far. That gives us some ammunition to provide some experience, but it’s the depth of understanding.”  

Last year, the School of Communications, the Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine, Residential Life and the Department of Cultural and Global Education piloted the IMaGinE idea and created their own plans. These units will share their experiences and give advice to the other departments as they try to form their individual plans.  

Ariza also wants to get students involved by using social media and reaching out to student organizations.

“We’re looking at trying to engage our student leaders from Greek life, student government, the student paper and the multicultural student organizations to lead by example,” Ariza said. “We are trying to have these leaders think about what message do they want to be sending to their constituents.”

President of the Black Student Union Ashaa Russell will meet with leaders from the major student organizations on campus, such as Greek life, the Student Government Association and the multicultural organizations to discuss the IMaGinE Plan. In the long term, Russell will reach out to other organizations and the general student population.

Russell said the IMaGinE Plan will not completely change what the organizations want to do.

“Instead, each unit or organization should ask themselves, ‘what are some changes that I can make within my agenda for this school year that will accomplish the goals of the IMaGinE Plan?’” Russell said. “Sometimes the smaller things have a bigger and have a more lasting effect afterward. The IMaGinE Plan shouldn’t drastic[ly] change the organizations; I am hoping that it opens their eyes to the bigger picture, which includes all people regards of who they are or where they come from.”

Freshmen will also discuss diversity in their QU 101 class and read the IMaGinE Plan as an assignment, Ariza said.

There have also been early talks of creating a Multicultural and Global Education Center and a Women’s Resource Center on campus, but the progress for this is moving slowly, Ariza said.

Russell was disappointed when the Multicultural and Global Education Center was not included in the student center.

“I thought that these resources were going to be included in the student center when it was first being built,” Russell said. “The OMGE plays a vital role on campus within faculty training and events for the whole campus. Also the minority population is constantly growing so it’s important that they are visible. Furthermore, there is between 60 to 70 percent women at Quinnipiac so a women’s resource center is a necessity.”

Stephen Balkaran, a professor in the department of philosophy and political science and the author of books and articles on racism, said he believes that the university has made “leaps and bounds” in building a diverse campus.

“I honestly believe that this strategic plan will enable our campuses to fulfilled of the mission of diversity on campus but at the same time expose many of our student scholars the importance of diversity on campus but more so in America,” Balkaran said. “We are a changing country and I believe that this plan will enable students, faculty and staff to understand the importance of embracing each other, but also respecting each other’s religion, ethnicity, beliefs, sexuality [and] political beliefs.”   

 Diversity is also about more than just race, Ariza said. The IMaGinE Plan focuses on differences in experience, geography and social income, Ariza said.

“Race is not enough,” she said. “Race limits you in what discussion you are going to have if you are not looking at what region you are coming from, what high school you came from. And I think that sometimes we don’t look at that. We don’t start asking the deeper questions of what do we mean by that experience.”

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