December 2, 2015
Students from universities across the United States are speaking. From Missouri, to New Haven, to Norman, and locally at Claremont, a diversity of student voices are being heard. They feel unwelcome, unsafe and unappreciated.
The common, shared experience being voiced is that universities are ignoring complaints of ongoing hostility toward students of color at these campuses. In reaction mode the universities are forced to take last-minute measures to navigate the delicate balance of a strategic and respectful vision of what diversity means in an academic institution.
I am pleased that at California State University San Marcos our commitment to diversity and inclusion is not just window dressing but transparent through our long-standing commitment to implement best practices designed to help all students feel safe, valued and appreciated. Rather than reacting, we choose to hold ourselves accountable by being proactive and strategic in our efforts.
As the president of CSUSM, I am personally committed to and fully support our students, faculty and staff as we move forward together to protect and nurture an environment where racism and marginalization cannot flourish. I trust that you know that I am committed to ensuring diversity and inclusion stay central to our mission, vision, core values and strategic priorities. As testament to this transparency, I proudly share a few examples of how we have approached and sustained diversity through several strategic efforts just in the last year alone.
The opening this fall of the Latin@ Student Center, the receipt of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award, the award of an HSI Title V grant, the success of our Beyond the Stereotype campaign, the recent creation of the President’s Diversity and Inclusive Excellence awards, and the popularity of our Conversations that Matter series have helped elevate us as a more inclusive campus and has increased our intercultural proficiency.
In keeping a pulse on our campus climate in spring 2015, we participated in the Diverse Learning Environment (DLE) Survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. The DLE focused on the climate for diversity, including experiences with discrimination, validation and sense of belonging, looking at institutional practices, curriculum, and co-curricular diversity activities. We did well compared to the national benchmarks, but the data tell us what we all know - that there is still work to be done. The data from the survey will be used to improve our diversity and inclusion efforts.
We must, however, not rest on our laurels. Although we have accomplished much, there is still much work to do. We still face barriers that must be overcome and we have gaps where equity is wanting. Members from the Black Student Union raised concerns at my Oct. 1 forum, and, as I requested, presented me with their written concerns and requests on Nov. 20. I am now in the process of charging a work group, which will be chaired by Dr. Dang Chonwerawong, associate vice president of Student Academic Support Services, to further explore their recommendations with a request for their report back to me by May 1, 2016.
Finally, this year we are embarking on a revision of our original diversity strategic plan to provide specific measurable action steps, assign divisional responsibilities for these actions, and time lines. With this plan we will address the gaps and issues identified in the year-long diversity mapping initiative we conducted last year. We anticipate vetting this plan with the campus community in the spring of 2016. I invite all to participate and encourage you to bring your voice to the table.
I remain committed to creating a safe and inclusive environment where we can learn from each other both in spite of and because of our differences, where we can maintain a learning environment where freedom of speech and diversity are not mutually exclusive but complementary. However, let me be clear, although freedom of speech is vital to the meaningful exchange of ideas and to our notion of an American democracy; it does not permit the creation of a hostile environment.
I have faith in the strength of our campus culture as we move forward together. I am confident our CSUSM community will continue to raise the bar as an example of how mindful, respectful and strategic efforts to ensure diversity and inclusion have long-lasting, positive impact on our students, faculty, staff and region.