Students, staff look inward to improve diversity

A cross-section of students, faculty and staff met to discuss diversity and look for practical ways to increase inclusiveness at Southern Oregon University Tuesday night.

Diversity consultant Greg Bell of Portland began the evening by shaking every audience member's hand and asking their name, one practical way of showing that respect can improve the atmosphere on a college campus, he said.

"When you walk on a campus, it's about 'How do I feel?'" he said. "It's not about what the policies say."

Although much of the meeting was meant to empower people in improving their campus, it was also an information-gathering session for Bell, who is working with the university to change any policies that may inhibit diversity. He also met with focus groups and the executive team to develop short- and long-term strategies, such as changing hiring or student recruitment practices to give the campus a more welcoming vibe.

A college campus is by definition a diverse place, Bell said, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

"If you want to have a diverse campus, you're going to have conflict," he said. "A lot of times groups will want change, but they don't want to do any of the work."

Instead of asking how the administration could improve diversity, Bell asked participants what they personally could do to make the campus a place where anyone would feel welcome.

"I'm in a position of authority on campus, so what I can do is accept invitations to sit at the table when there are policy decisions that are going to influence the diversity of the campus," said Deltra Ferguson, the coordinator of the women's resource center. "In my twenties, I was on the street with my signs, and now I'm inside, and I need to try to keep making changes."

Chera Sabankaya, a senior psychology major, shared her realization that she might be more welcoming if she was not so busy.

"I think we deceive ourselves thinking 'The more I volunteer or commit myself, the more I'm helping the world,' but the thinner you're spread, the less approachable you are, so it's self-defeating."

Other students suggested they should move beyond the high school mindset of sticking with their clique and reach out to more students.

"You definitely see people in the cafeteria eating together every day. They all hang out together and go to parties together," said senior Josh Guerreiro. "It just seems like no one's really branching out to meet new people. They've met everyone they want to meet, and they don't really care about meeting anyone else."

Mark Bottorff, director of admissions, said he could help his staff think big, but also realize that diversity is relative.

"What is diverse to me may not be diverse to someone else," he said. "Someone who's coming from central Oregon might find this to be an incredibly diverse campus."

Although some ideas might require a bigger budget, a tough challenge in the face of recent budget problems, there are still plenty of ways to be welcoming without spending money, Bottorff said.

"It doesn't take a budget line-item to treat people with respect," he said.

The ideas gathered Tuesday night are only the beginning of the long road to increased diversity, Bell said.

"The question is not what we did tonight. It's what are you going to do tomorrow and the next day," he said. "The answers are right here on campus. If people were willing to treat each other a little bit better, it'd be fine. Everyone has the skill to do it, but do they have the will?"

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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