December 5, 2016
Diversity is one of CSUN’s core values and central to our identity as an institution. To more fully utilize the strength of being such a multifaceted community, earlier this semester, we invited CSUN students, faculty and staff members to share their thoughts on the topic of diversity by responding to the following question:
Strongly anchored in our shared commitment to access and opportunity, CSUN is one of the most diverse campuses in the nation. Last year, to shine a light on the importance of diversity to the academy and learning, and on the potential of our student diversity to serve as a powerful catalyst for educational excellence, President Dianne F. Harrison announced the position of Chief Diversity Officer and the creation of a Commission on Diversity and Diversity Initiatives.
These efforts draw strength and energy from the campus community’s varied points of view. Please assist us to fully capitalize on this diversity and graduate Matadors known for possessing the leadership skills that are needed in an increasingly interconnected, culturally complex, global community.
What are promising campus practices for using diversity to equip our students for 21st century success [e.g., enhancing critical thinking, creativity, and boundary-spanning leadership skills]? How can we create learning environments that take full advantage of CSUN’s unique diversity-related strengths? How can we better celebrate, support and facilitate inclusivity and diversity?
The question elicited a wide range of comments. The discussion touched on the definition of diversity, CSUN’s efforts to bolster it, the role diversity will/should play in the mission and future of CSUN, and much more. Below is a summary of the responses.
Diversity in Learning: Student Perspectives
Student attitudes ranged from “I learned more during interactions with people who were different than from people who were similar to me” to “Stop this celebrating nonsense; it’s frivolous.” One student opined that talking about differences only serves to reinforce those differences. Another commented that open-mindedness and cultural understanding cannot be forced, rather must be made more attractive to those who shy away from different cultures. Several students suggested that the faculty should be more diverse. Students submitted suggestions for making the classroom and the campus experience more inclusive.
Suggestions related to the classroom include:
- Sensitivity training for faculty to deal with students from different backgrounds and students with disabilities
- Training in fundamental human rights
- Teach empathy and ethics.
- Ensure that a diversity of opinions can be expressed in classroom discussions without hostility;
- Open discussions of topics such as hate speech and breaking down stereotypes
- Encouragement of student participation in events not directly related to their major (adds perspective for their own field of study)
- Adopt a paradigm where we view ourselves as global citizens, united in seeking a more just, equitable and peaceful world
- Pay close attention to student feedback on how professors are teaching
- Consider the unique challenges older students face, particularly related to technology
Suggestions related to outside the classroom/campus life include:
- Events celebrating different cultures; heritage fair; more outdoor activities; job fairs
- More clubs
- Interpreters for clubs and events to better involve deaf students
- Periodic sessions focusing on race, ethnicity, social issues, etc.
- More awareness and support of undocumented students
- More common spaces, including eating and studying areas with community tables and outlets, to create more opportunities for interaction.
- Fight violence – especially against girls/women
- Make the university a ‘safe zone.’
- Change the male matador symbol.
- Include a more diverse selection of music in Big Show and other events.
- Consider how staff members treat students.
- Consider students who work full-time when setting schedules for support services (tutoring, etc.).
Diversity in Teaching: Faculty Perspectives
Faculty opinions about diversity were as broad-ranging as those of the students. On one end of the spectrum, we had, “I applaud the diversity that is CSUN. I have taught here for almost 20 years and have seen the campus community change many times…” At the other end, we saw, “Concentrate [more] on academic standards, where we are falling woefully short.” Many faculty members commented on the need for a more diverse faculty, as well as the need to appropriately address faculty concerns. One respondent commented that bias is often unconscious and plays out in classroom behavior, attitude toward assignments, and/or on student evaluations, which can in turn result in non-retention of diverse faculty. Another faculty member wrote that the university’s current logo and the website modifications implemented two years ago are not friendly to the visually impaired.
There were many suggestions on incorporating diversity considerations in and out of the classroom, some of which are presented below:
In the classroom:
- Cross-campus group projects to create friendships and memorable learning experiences.
- More offerings of University 100; most promising practice for using diversity to equip students for 21st century success.
- Incorporate a platform for students to present diversity-related life/workplace issues for discussion.
- Use the student population as a force to bring awareness as part of class credit.
- Diversity of students necessitates smaller classes to provide greater individual attention.
- Train graduate students to work in cross-cultural/diverse teams.
- Include cultural competency courses and education.
- Incorporate students’ personal/professional interests into their coursework.
- More courses with global content
- Make study abroad easier for low income students.
- Graduate programs with global content
- For group projects, ensure the groups are diverse.
- Include discussions of difference in all classes.
- Student assignment to interview someone from another culture on topic relevant to the class
- Be open to all cultures and traditions without sacrificing quality of learning.
- Give students the freedom to be creative while emphasizing institutional value system.
- Mini-grants for faculty who incorporate diversity topics in courses that traditionally do not have a diversity element.
Beyond the classroom:
- Do not publish faculty year of degree in catalog; it encourages ageism.
- Diversity training for department chairs
- Do not use diversity as a reason to exclude white candidates from faculty positions.
- Be more welcoming of people with disabilities.
- External grants that support students of all backgrounds
- Facilitate a process whereby diverse faculty could share their personal experiences with students.
- Assist foreign students in transitioning to their new environment, culture, language and rules.
- Create opportunities for diverse faculty and staff to meet.
- Create communities where faculty and their families can live close to students.
- Campus-wide open forums; provide incentives for participation.
- Diversity must incorporate elements that influence point of view, including political and religious affiliations.
Diversity in the Workplace: Staff Perspectives
CSUN staff members tell us that while CSUN thinks of itself as a diverse community, in some ways, that is true in theory only and more must be done. They joined students and faculty in calling for a more diverse faculty and staff, and called for more people of color in management. And while the staff concurs with the need to focus on students, the point was made that workplace issues left unresolved can seep into interactions with students. One respondent commented that some people are reluctant to talk about these issues for fear of “saying the wrong thing.” A couple of concerns related to specific departments are being looked into. Below are some of the comments received from CSUN staff members:
- Need to take a closer look at diversity and campus climate.
- Embrace the silent and determined students who work hard to balance work and family while continuing their education.
- Work toward a more diverse foreign student population that represents all parts of the globe.
- Attend to the declining rate of enrollment/retention of African American students.
- Promote an ‘all-inclusive’ cultural event on the quad that celebrates CSUN diversity with food, stalls, performances, etc.
- Tap into women of color for leadership positions.
- Too few African-Americans are being hired
To everyone who provided feedback – thank you. Some of you wrote eloquently about your own experiences, and many of you provided emphatic reminders of the importance of remaining vigilant so that we may live up to CSUN’s high ideals. Your thoughtful, honest and open input will help us continue to work together toward an even more inclusive campus.