September 14, 2007

Diversity Council Aims High

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In response to concerns about assessing and enhancing diversity on campus, the University Diversity Council is preparing to launch four new initiatives that will focus on issues of diversity at Cornell.
“When it comes to diversity, you often have a conversation that is we are or we aren’t doing well, and we are or aren’t doing better than we had in the past; but you usually don’t have a lot of specifics in those conversations,” said Deputy Provost David Harris. “It’s usually difficult to make progress because there’s not an agreement on how big a problem you have, or if there is a problem, where.”
The new programs will allow administrators to better understand the magnitude and specifics of problems facing diversity at Cornell.
“There are four different programs: Equity Score Card, Breaking Bread, Summer Institute for Diversity and Unity and Feedback,” Harris said.
According to Harris, the Equity Score Card is essentially a report card that can be used to evaluate four different aspects of diversity; excellence, retention, climate and access.
“I love the Equity Score Card because it will provide us with an opportunity to have objective indicators of how we’re doing across a range of things. It will give us something concrete and that will be very helpful to moving this forward, so we’ll know how we’re doing at some level,” Harris said.
This will allow the University to gauge the effectiveness of the other three initiatives, as well as various other changes being made to enhance diversity. One of the initiatives, Breaking Bread, is aimed at beneficially altering the student climate of the campus.
“This is a program that was created at Colgate. The idea is that student groups are often looking for more funding for their activities, and there’s more demand than supply. So, maybe there is a creative way, something else that comes out of this,” Harris said. “I’m going to tell groups if they partner with a group that I might not expect to see them with, and they have a collaborative event, I’ll give them some additional funding.”
The catch is, they cannot just send in a form; they have to come together to make and eat a meal together, hence the name, Breaking Bread.
“They have to do all of it. So they start with creating a menu; then they shop to purchase the food; then they make the meal together; they eat the meal together; then they end up having some activity,” Harris said. “You’re just doing together. You end up being people instead of your group, my group.”
According to Harris, one of the most memorable examples from Colgate was a gay and lesbian student group that partnered up with the College Republicans. They brought in Andrew Sullivan, a gay conservative pundit.
“It was co-sponsored by these groups, and it brought multiple constituencies who might not have come if it was sponsored by only one of these groups,” Harris said. “It’s a way to take groups and try and make the campus a little smaller, and find commonality by breaking bread.”
Another way to gauge the effectiveness of these initiatives, as well as hear from the Cornell community, is the Feedback program. According to Harris, this will be simply an email address, feedbackprogram@cornell.edu, where students can send their concerns and responses about diversity. There will be guiding questions posted in advertisements in various publications that students can respond to.
In order to reach a larger percentage of Cornellians, the Summer Institute for Diversity and Unity will aim to expand the amount of diversity in the educational aspects of the University.
“Students have expressed an interest in having some sort of diversity requirement. Cornell doesn’t have any one course that students are required to take. We’ve pulled a list of courses related to diversity so that students are aware of the different courses that they are able to take,” Harris said.
However, according to Robert Harris, Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development, this becomes a matter of self-selection, with the students choosing whether or not to take courses related to diversity. The Summer Institute, piloted at Hamilton College, resolves this. The idea is that issues of diversity will be incorporated into the syllabi of courses that students are taking to meet their requirements, thus reaching “students who might not otherwise seek out diversity,” Harris said.
“I’m excited that we will be able to reach out to the faculty and talk about these issues,” said Kent Hubbel, dean of students. “We need to do everything we can to enhance our support of these issues on campus.”
These initiatives will not eradicate the need for further diversity forums, according to both Harris and Hubbel.
“I will be involved with diversity forums that we will hold during the academic year, especially to inform students about how our diversity initiatives are going. It was out of the forum (held at the Cook House last spring) that students expressed interest in the Breaking Bread project and the summer seminar for faculty,” Hubbel said.
Harris hopes that the combined effort of these new initiatives and the recurring forums will allow Cornell to continue to expand and enhance its diversity.
“We picked these because we’re trying to hit different pieces, different levels if you will. There’s the overall how’s it going, there’s student climate, trying to pull folks together who might not be, there’s the curricular issues and there’s the overall climate with the feedback,” Harris said.
According to Harris, these very different initiatives are all working toward the common goal of creating an actively diverse campus.
“This diversity initiative is an active initiative. It’s an initiative that is not about here’s what you should think; it’s an initiative that’s saying there’s some important issues that are hard issues, and we’re trying to find a range of ways to engage a range of individuals to try to make progress and make the community better for all Cornellians. That’s the goal. It’s not a passive; it’s an active,” Harris said.