The Challenges of Diversity
We Need Diversity More Than Diversity Needs Us
Originally published in Gonzaga Quarterly, Fall 2006By Marny Lombard
Ethnic diversity has a long and checkered history at Gonzaga. It began with founder Father Joseph Cataldo’s hopes to educate and evangelize boys of the river and plateau tribes, and continued in the early 20th century when the University educated those of Irish, Italian and Scandinavian descent, the ethnically diverse immigrants of the day.
Ethnic and racial diversity is woven into Gonzaga’s presence. This fall’s freshman class reports 15.2 percent students of color, and Gonzaga’s Unity House, the campus multi-cultural center, will mark its tenth anniversary with a gathering this spring. Faculty and staff of color have begun mentoring ethnic minority students and, if asked, will meet with minority job candidates. The University’s current strategic planning process names increasing diversity among its preliminary goals.Even the future of ethnic diversity is clear. Given shifting national demographics, Gonzaga must eventually reflect a growing population of minorities. By the year 2020, minorities are expected to make up 28 percent of college students in Washington state, of which 25 percent will be Latino.
“There’s been a growing drumbeat of interest over the last 15 years,” said George Critchlow, Law School associate professor and founding member of the Institute for Action Against Hate. Both a Native American studies program and a Native American law program are under discussion. Overall, energy is gathering on this complex issue, which fits so naturally into Gonzaga’s mission of social justice, service and outreach.
But a number of Gonzaga’s students of color are crying out for more community now. They want more ways to connect people of color on campus, greater awareness and sensitivity from mainstream students and faculty, and more academic courses on race-specific areas of interest. Most of all, they and members of Gonzaga’s faculty and staff believe the University must hire, retain and promote more ethically diverse professors and staff. To create a more richly diverse university, many argue that broad leadership is needed and the money to make it happen.
For Hector Maldonado (’03), Gonzaga was a natural choice. The University did not recruit him, but his older brother was just a year ahead of him, and Spokane is not far from their home in Tonasket, Wash., Still, Maldonado went through culture shock when he arrived on campus. “It was a complete 180 degrees for me, growing up in a predominantly Latino area,” He made a success of the situation, helping to shape his friends’ understanding of Latino culture, and vice versa. After graduation from Gonzaga with a business degree, he earned an MBA from Eastern Washington University, and currently works for Kauffman Associates, Inc., a Spokane-based Native American consulting firm. What role will he play as an alumnus? “I definitely would be interested in becoming active, especially with other Latino students, perhaps to host a visiting student or their family.”
Gonzaga’s Dean of Admission Julie McCulloh is a campus leader on ethnic diversity. Not only does she foresee the effect of shifting demographics on the University, but she cares personally about the issue.
“Creating a more diverse environment is a passion of mine and others in my office. My colleagues and I believe that we become more educated by learning about and experiencing other cultures, religions, histories, ways of looking at the world,” McCulloh said.
The admissions office and other campus partners have launched the First Generation Project, a five-year initiative working with high school students in the Yakima Valley, where a large population of Latinos and Native Americans lives. The goal is to develop students’ leadership skills and to demystify the college experience for students and their families. Gonzaga students from the Comprehensive Leadership Program will work with the Yakima Valley youth. The project is funded by $50,000 from the Center for Student Opportunities in Bethesda, Md., and is intended to build ties with prospective, first-generation college students.
“We hope that these relationships will translate into their college enrollment in general and specifically at Gonzaga,” said Dennis Gagaoin, associate dean of admission and diversity specialist.
Last spring, a campus-visit program for ethnic minorities called MEET, for Multicultural Encounters for Educational Transition, brought to campus 18 students from across the country. Typically, a majority of prospective students who visit campus want to attend. Seven of the MEET students committed to Gonzaga. Competition for high-achieving diversity students is fierce nationwide. One of the MEET prospects chose a full-ride scholarship to Harvard University.
What does McCulloh need to bring more ethnic minorities to campus? Resources.
“Many of the MEET students require more scholarship and grant assistance to fill the financial aid gap. We must focus on raising more money to meet the financial needs of our students,” McCulloh said. A similar event is scheduled this year.
In the eyes of Pat Reese, associate director of development for the University, the issue is about access to education and the University’s efforts to honor its mission. “Everyone deserves the right to try. If they compete for that opportunity and they are deserving, we want to be able to educate them,” Reese said.
Senior Heidi Abrahamson is an enrolled member of the Spokane Tribe. Her father’s extended family is well known on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and part of her culture shock was simply being amid people who didn’t know her. Her family members went through their own adjustment.
“At first, my father would call me three or four times a day. I talked to my Aya (grandmother) everyday for two years,” Heidi said. When her father brought deer antlers to make her room feel more like home, one roommate objected to ‘dead animal parts.'
Heidi is grateful to the Jesuits for her education, and to Bob Bartlett, newly named director of intercultural education; Raymond Reyes, newly named associate mission vice president for intercultural relations; and Robert Prusch, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and founder of the Native American outreach program, Gonzaga Indian Education Outreach Program. Their passion to include her in the Gonzaga family made a crucial difference.
But the small size of Gonzaga’s multicultural community is its weakness, she says. “One night I’d call Bob (Bartlett) crying over something that happened in class that day. The next night it would be another student calling him, and the night after that it would be someone else. It just was too much on his shoulders and Raymond (Reyes)’s and Dr. Prusch’s.”
This fall, Heidi finished a few final credits. She hopes to be accepted into the School of Education’s Masters in Initial Teaching program for spring semester. She works at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, where she educates visitors. Would she consider returning to Gonzaga to teach some day?
“Definitely, I would,” she says.
When African-American, Native American, Asian or Latino students first set foot inside Gonzaga’s Unity House, Bartlett knows that many will ask: “Where are all the black people?” or “Where are all the brown people?” He explains that Gonzaga’s ethnically diverse population is small, as is Spokane’s, but that students of color have the chance to help build a more truly diverse campus. He will nurture these students for the duration of their studies and beyond. He is friend, cheerleader and de-facto grandfather, also the anchor of Unity House, where minority students gather to study, relax and find kinship. He teaches diversity classes and advocates for more ethnically diverse hiring.
"I also hear students calling for more race-specific courses. They want Native American studies, African-American history, African-American thought and more – and they want them offered regularly. We have introductory courses, but they want upper level courses, too,” Bartlett says.
Bartlett and Reyes are the most visible faces of diversity on the Gonzaga campus. Both are eloquent about the Ignatian spiritual foundation of their work. “We can become contemplatives in action, people who are alert to God’s presence in all our intercultural relationships,” Reyes said. Both men emphasize the collaboration they enjoy with others. The faculty/staff minority group called IMPACT, for Intercultural and Multicultural Professionals Affecting Change Together, draws members from all corners of the campus.
One member of IMPACT is Anna Gonzales, student activities coordinator in the student life office. She tackles projects large and small, including organizing the diversity pre-orientation program called Summer Bridge, which in August gave 30 minority students a chance to learn the ropes and start bonding together before the general influx of freshman. Gonzales came from Fresno, an area so thoroughly multicultural that her power bill was printed in seven languages. After two yeas in Spokane, Gonzales created a guide to hard-to-find local ethnic resources, so that others won’t experience her frustration.
Other projects are also in the works. A student intern is organizing a multicultural leadership retreat for Fall 2007. Also, Unity House and the alumni office are seeking ways to connect with alumni of color. Bartlett and others, including several alumni interviewed for this report, say that alumni of color could provide valuable support for minority students.
This summer, Reyes’s office of diversity gained a new home in the office of the vice president for mission, and a new name: the office of intercultural relations. “We have come a long way.” Reyes said. “I’m starting my nineteenth year at Gonzaga this fall. When I arrived, the incoming class had 5 or 6 percent minority. Now we’re at 15 percent minority. We’re going in the right direction. Are we doing all the things that research says we should be doing? I think it’s clearly no. Could we be doing more? Yes."
|Cara Hairston, a sociology major, returned this fall to finish her coursework and graduate, but only after some personal turmoil. From a military family, this bi-racial young woman has lived all over the United States and overseas. She enjoyed her freshman year, making strong friends on her floor of Welch Hall and helping with diversity events. But the campus response to those events was cool, she said, so she and others in the Black Student Union turned their energy to students of color on other campuses and in the Spokane community. In a few instances, she or her friends were asked uncomfortable questions by other Gonzaga students, Hairston said, revealing bias at work. |
"I felt that there was a lack of attention to the needs of students of color, and that had a profound effect on me. I felt the need to change the atmosphere of the school.” She has practical suggestions including this one: “There needs to be a program in which all the students of color can get to know each other, including people form the Schools of business, engineering and the Law School.”
Eighteen faculty searches took place in 2005-2006. Reyes and Equal Opportunity Officer Victoria Loveland offered their help on a search committee. Seven ‘diversity hires’ were made, including five ethnically diverse faculty and two women faculty in male-dominated fields. Two other searches included strong minority candidates, but failed to result in hiring.Wanting stronger results, Father Spitzer and certain administrators are forming a task force on hiring, retaining and promoting diverse faculty. “We have to look at the faculty pieces in more systemic and concerted way,” Spitzer said. He foresees three areas of attention:
- Establishing strong relationships with prospective minority faculty candidates when they are still in graduate school to allow them “to see who we are.”
- Creating an endowment explicitly for assuring adequate resources for diversity hiring.
- Connecting with other universities in northeastern Washington to form a network for faculty of color, providing the means for a rich exchange of ideas and personal relationships.
“The task force will not be limited to these three areas,” Spitzer said. “We are looking for any excellent ideas which will help resolve the weakness that hindered these recent faculty searches.”
|Father Pat Lee, S.J., vice president for mission, takes the topic of diversity right back to the Society of Jesus. |
“St. Ignatius prided himself on how diverse a group he assembled when he founded the Society of Jesus. Whenever he spoke about the origins of the Society of Jesus, he listed all of the groups that he drew from. So, if we are being faithful to the Jesuits, we will be diverse.”
Lee is forthright about his concerns: “We need diversity far more than diversity needs us. The administration has a massive undertaking in front of it. If we want to keep this a Catholic school, we’re going to need Catholic students, which means Latino students. Is this school ready for that? No. Are we ready for the Latino cultural world, or the Latino religious world?”
He cites language concerns and cultural differences. “We English-Germans talk through in a straight line when we want to get somewhere. But Latino culture prefers to talk around and around. Are we ready for that? Other issues center around degrees of student independence. Our students are immediately ready for that, but Latino cultures are more family-based. What is that going to do to our teaching style, and student life?
“My fear right now is that we have approached minorities and brought them here, but in a place of victimhood. My question is how do we bring them here and empower them?”
Father Lee suggests that one path to a more ethically diverse faculty is through international hiring.
“Are we prepared to bring in Jesuits from Africa, India, Latin America?” he asks. “What happens when you bring in a young Latin America philosopher and his English isn’t very strong in the classroom? In the tenure process, what happens when he is not schooled in American education? Do we have the patience to give him time, or not? I think the departments and school will be for this, but the real test is in tenure and classroom teaching. Do we have the patience? Are we prepared as a community to go to the next level?”
Professor Scott Bozman of the School of Business Administration, president of the faculty Senate, advocates from a somewhat different point of view. He embraces a diversity of ideas.
|“If we are truly seeking a diversity of ideas through the breadth and scope of the university it would be unconscionable not to recruit diverse faculty,” Bozman said. “But color is not the only factor correlated with diversity of ideas; different academic and professional training also correlates.” |
Bozman is cautions at the prospect of paying a premium to bring highly qualified minorities to teach at Gonzaga, and the divisiveness that could create among faculty. Bringing in an unprepared minority professor also seems inauspicious to him. “That’s a slippery slope,” Bozman says. Instead he promotes the strategy of ‘growing your own’ –nurturing promising Gonzaga students of color through graduation and beyond, until they have completed their doctorate and return to campus to teach.
This fall, five minority students opted not to return to Gonzaga. Four would have been seniors, one would have been a junior. Their reasons varied, but included financial need and a feeling of being overwhelmed by the challenges of being ‘on’ more or less constantly as minority representatives.
“Many parents can’t afford to send their sons and daughters here. And the scholarships aren’t enough, so students are working two jobs and trying to be engaged in activities here, and keep up with their studies. If they are first-generation students, their parents may not be emotionally supportive. It’s just too much for some of them,” said Kristin Reeves, a first-generation college student and a graduate student at Gonzaga.
Ed Taylor (’82), dean of undergraduate academic affairs at the University of Washington and a Gonzaga Trustee, has watched many multi-cultural students over the years. Early in his career, he worked at a university in California. “There was tremendous pride in the extent to which the university carried out its mission,” he says. “Then, almost inadvertently I found myself talking to students of color, at first a few, then more, and I found common themes. One was a level of isolation, and a critique of the university in ways I hadn’t heard before. I was dumbfounded by first of all my own lack of awareness. By the time I was talking with them, most were planning on leaving. These students were quietly saying, ‘It hasn’t been a great experience for me. I think I’m going to be moving on to another university.’ Whatever was going on, it was producing enough concern that students were leaving. I began worrying what it is about campus cultures that give some students a voice, but mutes the voices of others. From then on, I made an effort to ensure that what I knew was informed by data and our own narratives about a goodness of a campus, but also informed by conversations with students.”
Taylor is the sole African-American trustee at Gonzaga.
“The University’s Jesuit mission and history suggests that we ought to try to be different with respect to issues of justice, access and equity,” Taylor says. “This conversation ought to cut to the heart of what Gonzaga is about. It ought to be part of the nomenclature, raised not by a handful of students who are isolated, but it ought to be in the heart of the way we speak and the way we act. It frankly ought to be our strength, not our weakness.”