Friday, November 30, 2007

Dissecting Diversity Lacks Christian Reasoning

You will find no mention of Christ in this article.

Dissecting Diversity
At Seattle University, diversity is more than a buzzword—it is part of the institutional fabric of the university. But a new task force is looking at how we define diversity, how it is part of the SU culture and ways we can expand our programs to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population.
By Nick GalloNovember 30, 2007

At Seattle University, diversity is a defining characteristic, school leaders say. But diversity is also a broad, amorphous term. It has a feel-good, “We Are the World” kind of easy appeal. What is diversity, really? How does diversity contribute to academic excellence and enrich the educational experience? Last January a group of SU administrators, faculty and students came together to form a task force to explore such questions. The Engaging Our Diversity Task Force has been taking an inventory of SU's diversity-related initiatives on campus and will issue its report in December 2007.
“Real diversity occurs when people can express differences even from within a particular racial or ethnic group.”—Jacob Diaz, assistant vice president of Student Development/dean of students, It was born not out of any real crisis but because SU wants to make a meaningful assessment of diversity, a hard-headed evaluation of how it's integrated into daily life at the university, says

Robert Kelly, co-chair of the task force and vice president of
Student Development. “When some people think about diversity, they stop at
the numbers—the racial or ethnic makeup of people—but we're going beyond that to
look at how diversity ties into the entire education enterprise,”
he says. “There's a feeling we're not doing enough to use our diversity to benefit
all students.”

“This is complex because there's a wide range of things to consider when you think about faculty members 'buying in' to diversity,” Fitts says. “If you're a sociology professor, it's pretty likely that you're going to be addressing diversity issues—racism, sexism, injustices—but how do you do that if you're a physics professor? It's tempting for some faculty to say, 'Oh, diversity, that's not my issue.'”

However, cultural differences arise in almost every classroom and can affect learning. Two years ago, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) launched regular workshops on diversity to spur faculty's professional development. They've included topics such as “Strategies for Enhancing Intercultural Learning and Teaching.” During the first year, 30 faculty members attended such sessions. Last year, the number doubled. The center also provides reviews of research literature for faculty. It reports that about one-quarter of the requests for literature reviews from faculty are related to diversity topics. Diversity is woven into numerous coursework offerings as well. This year SU introduced a major in Women Studies, adding to a list that includes International Studies, Global African Studies, International Business, Asian Studies, Cultural Anthropology and Modern Languages and Literature. Additionally, the College of Education recently approved a social justice class as a requirement for all its degree programs. Students also engage diversity through service-learning initiatives, which have become ingrained in the educational fabric of SU. More than three-quarters of all SU undergrads take a course with a service-learning component before they graduate, reports Kent Koth, director of the Center for Service and Community Engagement. Most of the service-learning opportunities take place within a few miles of the SU campus, in neighborhoods with sizable populations of blacks and Asians, says Koth, noting that such experiences push many students out of their comfort zone and force them to grapple with issues of race and class.
Going global
Other SU initiatives point an increasing trend toward internationalization. As the world shrinks, and the local and global are increasingly intertwined, educational excellence requires a global dimension, says Lawrence, associate provost for Academic Affairs. Already, several programs have global elements. For instance, students can engage in intensive international study in countries throughout the world as part of the undergraduate International Development Internship Program or graduate Research for Development Fellows Program. Students also have numerous opportunities to join Campus Ministry's immersion programs in places such as Nicaragua, Belize, Ecuador, Mexico, the Philippines and Vietnam. Now, says Lawrence, it's time for SU to take the next step and integrate global learning in a more systematic fashion. “We have lots of good things happening, but it's in an ad hoc way that often depends on a particular person's passion.”
Engaging diversity
Clearly, diversity has flourished at SU. But how often do students from different groups go beyond incidental, superficial contact—sitting across from each other in a classroom—to have personal, meaningful exchanges with one another?
The 2006 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual nationwide survey of college students, sheds some light on this.
Of students surveyed, 68 percent of SU seniors reported frequent conversations with students of a different race/ethnicity, compared to a 57 percent average at Jesuit peer institutions. When students were asked whether their institution substantially encourages contact among diverse groups, 67 percent of SU seniors said yes, compared to 49 percent at other Jesuit schools.

The NSSE survey doesn't illuminate how engagement happens. At SU, the process involves hundreds of formal events yearly combined with daily, informal exchanges among students, faculty and staff. For example, at the International Student Center, dozens of annual education and social events build solidarity among international students and also act as a bridge to the entire SU community. Similarly, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) helps more than a dozen student groups host events that link minority students to the larger SU community. Monica Nixon, director of OMA, is especially encouraged by new student-led initiatives. She points to the Hui O Nani Hawaii student group, which celebrates its heritage every year with a highly popular luau that draws up to 500 people. Concerned that visitors haven't been learning enough about Hawaiian culture amid the fine food and festivity, the student club last year launched a separate, daylong event to present different aspects of Hawaiian history and traditions. “If we really want to promote diversity, we need more opportunities for prolonged engagement,” says Nixon.
Last year, OMA also started “Courageous Conversations,” a series of open discussions meant to foster intergroup dialogue. The once-a-month sessions, led by students who have been trained in diversity issues, focus on controversial topics. “With diversity comes possible conflict, so we have to be able to confront that in a safe environment.”
In December, the Engaging Our Diversity Task Force will make recommendations that will be incorporated into SU's new strategic plan. They will likely address ways to promote diversity inside the classroom and in other areas of campus life, too, says Kelly. Such efforts are bound to be part of an ongoing process, says

President Stephen Sundborg, S.J. “In the last five years, I think we've made
some gains, in terms of creating an environment where minority students feel at
home here, where they feel this is their university,”

he says. “But we have a ways to go when it comes to asking, 'How well do we reach across to one another?' That's really what a Jesuit education is all about, and it will require lots of collaboration among faculty, staff and students.”

Read the full article (here)

1 comment:

Karen said...

I have heard a rumor that Sundborg and most of the Jesuits at SU are HUGE Obama supporters. So apparently all this diversity does not extend to the unborn, of any race, creed or color.