Students, faculty gather to discuss diversity

Are students tired of talking about the role diversity should play in their college experience? Not all of them.

Last Wednesday, undergraduate and graduate students alike joined faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Trustees at a town hall meeting to discuss the “Student State of Diversity.”

For 90 minutes, participants discussed what a diverse cultural climate on campus should look like. They wondered how to get students in segregated groups to interact and under what circumstances the interaction should occur.

The meeting served as a follow-up to President Jared Cohon’s annual “State of Diversity” speech in honor of Martin Luther King Day. Student Body Vice President Nicolette Louissaint moderated, with the help of Student Body President Tom Sabram.

Louissaint began by referring to the statistics Cohon mentioned in his speech. “A lot of the conversations we have about diversity are about the numbers and how proud we are of them,” she said. “We want to talk abut what we’re doing with the numbers and how they affect us.”

Participants debated how to create a diversity training program and how to foster more interaction between minority groups socially and academically. Analyzing why students are disinclined to diversify, participants reasoned that many students aren’t exposed to diversity prior to arriving on campus. They also speculated that students place the responsibility on others to make the first move and use the academic rigor of the institution as an excuse not to take an active role in making connections.

But, as some participants wondered, are we placing too much emphasis on creating a perfect microcosm of diversity on campus? For board member Lowell Steinbrenner, diversity has become “too heavy a burden.” He said that “diversity is a means, not an end.”

It appears some University officials agree. The January 26 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education named Carnegie Mellon’s Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science as one of “Five Programs That Opened Their Doors To All Races.” Formerly named the Summer Academy for Minority Scholars, the program became open to all races beginning last summer. The program prepares minority students to pursue degrees in science and engineering.

“I think diversity is natural,” said Everett Tademy, director of CMU’s Equal Opportunity Services and secretary of the Diversity Advisory Council. “I think it’s what we are.”

The primary purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was to create practical ways to take advantage of the diversity of races, ethnicities, interests, ideas, and perspectives that are represented on campus.
The group pointed to other mandatory programs, such as CSW and AlcoholEdu, to assess the potential pros and cons of a mandatory diversity course.

They praised events like UC Fridays that bring the whole campus together on a social level.
“We need to make it so that students are not only open to, but value differences in other people,” one faculty member said. He suggested initiating more group academic projects, giving students the opportunity to gain more perspectives and ideas from people with different backgrounds.

No matter what, the group concluded, unless there is a way to impart to students all the benefits that diversity can bring, there is no way to force interaction upon them.

“We look for reasons not to try things because it might not be the solution,” one staff participant said. “And it probably isn’t — but we’re closer to finding the solution.”

Student government and the Division of Student Affairs co-sponsored the event, which kicked off February’s Black History Month events.