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Digging deeper into diversity: The year in review

December 12th, 2013

In the past year, John Carroll University has zeroed in on making significant strides to increase and promote diversity on campus. These endeavors have been carried out by many facets of the University, from student-run organizations to the Center for Service and Social Action. The University is currently searching for the optimum candidate to fill the position of assistant provost for diversity, but there have also been other important changes implemented around campus to facilitate diversity.

“We know empirically from research done by lots of folks as a University from a learning point of view that having people with different perspectives, different backgrounds, different ideas … will further develop the kind of dialogue, the kind of exchanges on campus and enhance critical thinking,” said Lauren Bowen, associate academic VP chair of the Diversity Steering Committee. “So I think learning is deeper when you have diversity.”

According to Bowen, JCU’s enrollment division has worked to diversify the student body on the basis of race as well as experience. More international students and student veterans are attending the University than ever before. The University has also diversified the number of students who practice different religions.

“Hillel is really on the rise here at John Carroll University in terms of its growing student population,” said senior David Markovich, Student Union chair of diversity and president of Hillel, the student Jewish society. “Our events have reached 200 or more students.”

Five years ago, just nine percent of faculty identified as faculty of color, as opposed to the 16 percent who do now.

“You can change the demographics, but unless there’s some intentionality about folks feeling included and as though they have a place and a voice on campus, then I don’t think diversity’s going to matter a whole lot,” said Bowen. “And so there have been a variety of programs through the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion and through the interfaith programs run out of the Center for Service and Social Action.”

The CSDI was developed three years ago to support students from underrepresented populations on campus. This year, the center implemented Safe Zone training, which offers a supportive environment for LGBT students on campus. Those who undergo training are able to develop the skills to assist anyone that identifies as LGBT, and then to be able to provide support for those students.

“Most of the time, they just want someone to listen or to bounce ideas off someone, talk about if they’re out or not and what that would feel like for them,” said Danielle Carter, director of the CSDI.

Carter cites the Stand Up to Bias campaign as one of the most important things that the center has implemented this year in terms of diversity. The campaign was developed two years ago but is constantly evolving and reaching out to different student, faculty and staff groups.

“We celebrate people from all backgrounds and what everyone brings to the University and that we will not tolerate bias and discrimination and hate on our campus,” said Carter.

“We’ve expanded really sophisticated bystander intervention training offered around the issue of interpersonal violence,” said Bowen. “We’ve expanded that and made it available to all staff as well to talk about how to interrupt any kind of bias or marginalization.”

Carter encourages students to help promote diversity by attending sponsored events and programs on campus. She said that while student attendance has been high in past years at these events, this year the turnout has not been as overwhelming.

“We offer things where all you have to do is show up and listen,” said Carter. “And then we offer things where you actually interact and discuss and dialogue about different topics. And then we offer training. So I would say taking advantage of any of those opportunities will help students to create a more welcoming environment that celebrates diversity and multiculturalism on campus. Having diversity on campus allows everyone to have different perspectives and a platform for discussion of those perspectives … And I think the perfect place to do that is a college campus because we have a captive audience that we know is going to go out into the world and make changes and make it a better place.”

Intercultural Communications, a course taught by EunJeong Han, features a service learning component that teams students up with Us Together, an agency that helps find jobs for refugees from Iraq and Nepal.

“The class has taught me how to look through the different ‘lens’ in culture,” said junior Marlie Ahola.

“I met a refugee couple during service this semester,” said junior Courtney Radtkin, who is also enrolled in the course. “They showed me pictures of where they have lived throughout their journey of being refugees. They showed me pictures of their family. They talked about their desire for education and a good life for their children. This family from across the world has the same deep desires as anyone else may have. Some people are more lucky than others, but in the end we all have the same deep rooted desires and reasons for living.”

The Center for Service and Social Action provides opportunities for students to meet others from different backgrounds.

“I think one of the things that we try to do is find opportunities for students to engage in service that challenges their lived experience, with people who have a different lived experience than our students would have, whether its age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race and ability,” said Margaret Finucane, director of CSSA. “And so in some way, you’re working with someone whose perspective and life experience is different than your own so that it challenges you to think about the world in a different way and to think about what it means to negotiate everyday life from a different perspective.”

Despite all of the work that the University has done in the past year, many believe that there is always room for improvement in terms of diversity.

“Speaking from my perspective, John Carroll has created a diverse environment on campus, and they’ve been nothing but welcoming towards me and my organization,” said Markovich. “And from what I’ve seen with other organizations on campus. But I think there’s always room for improvement. There’s always room for more mutual respect and tolerance towards other cultures and races.”

“I would say, overall, I can tell the campus tries, but I would like them to try a lot more,” said junior Taylor Hartman, president of Allies, the LGBTQ organization on campus. “It’s hard because being here for three years now, I can tell that there’s a stigma towards certain people, and predominantly this campus is more white, middle-to-upper class, Christian, and that can come off as unbecoming of the whole campus because it doesn’t entail the whole campus community. So I think that they try to welcome people, and I think that they try to promote diversity, but they can do it in more ways.”