Diversity: Big significance on a small campus

Photo+by+Amajla+Tricic

Photo by Amajla Tricic

Amajla Tricic, Staff Writer

Diversity is a topic discussed heavily on campus through community conservation, organization and programs that are designed for that very purpose.

But for an institution that focuses on maintaining an inclusive environment, what does it actually think diversity is? And what can it do to add to the growth of the campus?

The main focus for faculty and staff on campus is to show rather than tell. It is much easier to say what diversity is rather than implement it, but the institution is choosing to do both and stick with their promises that UC is not only diverse but is committed to making sure its version of diversity includes togetherness.

Students find enrichment in a diverse campus

Many students hope to see progression since diversity is something they believe is important in implementing and creates a learning process as well. This experience is one students observe while witnessing different lifestyles around them.

Senior Calico Yaworski recalls how her transition from a smaller less diverse school to a bigger school filled with different backgrounds taught her how to grow, but it was always important for her to be able pick out what made her and everyone else around her unique.

“I think that diversity to me is not only having physical differences with the people around you but also understanding and learning about them too,” she said. “Being able to open your eyes to different parts of the world that are in your own backyard is really important, and it let me have different forms of knowledge.”

Yaworski said her previous school’s community also affected what she was able to grasp.

Starting from a small town school near the town of Whitesboro, the only people who stood out were a black boy and a Bosnian girl due to the fact that most of the kids she attended school with had similar backgrounds. That experience alone intrigued her because they lived differently from her. Her experience transitioning into a bigger school filled with multiplicity only exemplified her passion for other student’s experiences.

“The second I got to interact with people who were different with me, I was just in love with learning, and it’s actually why I went into communications, and it was for inter-cultural communications, and that has been my favorite class in college so far,” she said. “Just because you have a bunch of people in a room doesn’t mean you understand everybody. Diversity is trying to understand and wanting to understand. If you want to understand other people, I think you’re on the right track to being a good person.”

Neil Fatata, a junior at UC, had a different experience compared to Yaworski but said the transition in his life is why he says diversity is valuable. To him, diversity is a collection of different cultures and ideas and that stuck with him when he witnessed lack of it.

“I first figured out what diversity was when I went to JFK Middle School to Notre Dame, and I saw a whole bunch of different religions and races in JFK and then I went to Notre Dame and it was all basically Catholic people,” Fatata said. “But at UC, there are different cultures everywhere, which I think is really key in college classes because you get different viewpoints on topics. It diversifies the learning that you get here on campus.”

Camaraderie is key for some

For some students, diversity is not just about different faces but it is how the world decides to utilize it, and they hope that it is as simple as fellowship.

“Diversity has many meaning, but for me it’s just like people joining together, it makes everything less basic,” Jasmine Pena, a junior, said.

To Darrel Herbert,  diversity means equal opportunity for everyone.

“It should not single out anyone because of their differences and the way they look, I feel that people need to be more accepting of others,” he said.

Pena says it is refreshing being able to come back home after visiting family members because “there is more of a nice mix of salad.”

When Raven Manchester, a junior, thought about diversity, she reflected on what it was like growing up in a family that was ashamed of who they were because of years of trying to assimilate into a country that did not respect them. Because of this experience, her own identity has been afflicted, and she has been trying to put the pieces back together.

“I think it is important that everyone should be accepted and loved,” said Manchester, reflecting about diversity. “My family is Cuban and Spanish, and they immigrated from there and the reason they immigrated was because they faced a lot of different hardships. My family had a very hard time being accepted into the community when they first moved and that has affected me my entire life because I never really got to learn about my own culture. To not feel comfortable in your own skin and trying to not have your family learn about your culture and be ashamed of it is sad, it is terrible.”

Definition of diversity varies, experts say

With students revealing what diversity means to them based off of personal knowledge, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Alane Varga said the word seems too broad for one specific meaning. Varga explained that people will see the expression in many different ways.

“I think you can come up with a very straightforward definition of diversity that has to do with the variety of ways in which we are different from each other and our identities and the way we are shaped by our experiences,” she said. “Our identities intersect in a variety of different ways and while some may look and seem more homogenous than others, the reality is that even in places where people look like each other and may seem the most similar- folks that are apart of that community also come from divergent experiences. No single person’s experience is the same. You can simply think of diversity in that way…simply the state of being where in a community, people are different from each other.”

Varga adds that the term can be seen in a variety of ways that either make it restrive or open to other suggestions or topics that face the issue at hand.

“It’s particularly limiting because we are talking about a state of being,” Varga said. “We are not talking about what happens in that community, we are not talking about how people interact with each other, we are not talking about the kinds of ways our system structures or opportunities reflect that diversity and the ways in which people all have access to those things and are treated by those systems. So, you can see that as a limited kind of word to use.”

Varga emphasized that it is more important to explore the inexhaustible ways diversity can be worked on to make sure individuals respect and explore each other’s differences rather than giving it an exact definition because diversity does not automatically mean togetherness.

“It’s not automatic with a diverse society,” Varga said. “We can have lots of people who are different but don’t respect each other, don’t value each other, don’t interact with each other. Think about social justice and what our institutional structures look like and the actions we need to take to be able to make sure we create the kind of community where our diversity is being taken advantage of and being the best community we can be.”

Diversity is something the UC campus heavily invests in, but this commodity is being established everywhere, specifically at other institutions.

Phyllis Breland, director of multicultural affairs at Hamilton College, believes diversity branches out to many different subjects and defining the word is never set in stone because it changes with differing issues.

“I have learned over the years that the definition of diversity depends on who you are speaking with and what you are speaking about,” she said. “The approach to diversity fluctuates with points to be made; political, personal, professional. My preference is for inclusion, and I support that with this statement: “Diversity is who is on the team, and inclusion is who gets to play.”

Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility, and in order to sustain impact, all actions must be ingrained into the fiber of the institution, according to Breland.

“Diversity happens regardless if I ‘do’ something or not,” she said. “Inclusion only happens if I work for it.”
Human resource initiatives are ongoing

In order to develop ideas and see results, there must be people working to achieve that. At UC, the Human Resource Department plays a big part in making sure the school is inclusive and fair for everyone.

Vice President for Human Resources and Personnel Development Lisa Green and Human Resource Coordinator Lesley Wallace both make sure that diversity is something that needs to be shown rather than explained.

Much of their time is spent on the hiring initiative to bring in more diverse candidates to the school. They want to make it clear that work is being done to bring results to fruition.

“We emulate what’s on the diversity statement as a college,” Wallace said. “It’s what we make sure we put forward to applicants and candidates making sure it’s very clear to them what kind of college we are and what we are looking for in candidates.”

Green explained that as an office they continually try to include everyone for across-the-board results.

“When I think about what we do in HR, any kind of policies, procedures, or training, any kind of development that we have here that comes out of this office really needs to be done to make sure it is accessible to everyone,” Green said. “And I don’t mean accessible like is it able to read from a processed ADA standpoint, I mean does it speak to everybody. Do the kind of things we put out in the office address a really broad and diverse workforce.”

Wallace adds that diversity among applicants does not necessarily have to do with someone’s cultural competency or affiliation with a minority group, but whether the candidate at hand can speak about their experiences in a diverse campus, a workforce and what kind of work they have done that surrounds that idea. Because to them, it is important to not only show differences in terms of race, sexuality, gender or disabilities, but to show that new and seasoned faculty and staff can come together and respect those differences.

When it comes to the different people on campus, John Johnsen, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, says diversity brings multiple perspectives, which forces people to ask questions and bring new topics to light.

“There are increasing bodies of data that suggests that people that develop and learn in a diverse environment end up being smarter because you’re forced to grapple with more than one perspective,” Johnsen said.

Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church David Cleaver-Bartholomew, who has worked with Utica College on diversity-related issues, believes diversity is beneficial and reflects on how as a pastor he can incorporates it into his faith and role in the church.

“I consider diversity to be a gift from God,” Cleaver-Bartholomew said. “I look at the world through the lens of my faith. I consider all people to be children of God and created in God’s image. Thus, all people are worthy of respect and dignity and all have inherent worth and value, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identification, racial or ethnic background and heritage, faith perspective (including having no faith perspective).”