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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Leadership and Service

Opening Doors
Students, faculty and administrators work to create a more diverse, inclusive campus

When Jodi Maeda was looking at colleges, she entered the characteristics she wanted into computer searches: a small school, strong academics, close enough that she could return to her Hawaii home but far enough away that she could be independent.
"I wanted to expand my horizons," said Maeda, a senior. "PLU just kept coming up." She was impressed by the admissions counselor she met at her high school, and she chose to become a Lute.

Maeda, a Japanese American, feels like she belongs on the Parkland campus, which strives to include students of different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds, as well as nontraditional age students, students with disabilities and sexual minorities.

 

The cover art:
"Opening Doors"

The cover art for this issue is the work of Mark Dunn '01. It was selected for publication because of the artful, poignant way it depicts PLU opening doors to all people of different backgrounds and beliefs. Dunn, who graduated with a bachelor of fine arts with an emphasis in design, used acrylic paints on canvas.

Scene asked the students in Stan Shaw's spring illustration class to come up with drawings portraying diversity and inclusiveness at PLU. These talented students developed many unique and creative interpretations, and Shaw and editors at Scene chose the finalist.
We thank Dunn, Shaw and all the students who gave their talents to this project.

We thank Dunn, Shaw and all the students who gave their talents to this project.

"This is something that's been a part of our soul and character from the start," PLU President Loren J. Anderson said. "A Lutheran university understands that each and every person is important and precious. None of the false walls that can be built around gender, race, sexual orientation or ethnic background have any place here."

Opening PLU's doors to students who bring different perspectives and experiences enriches the university community. And that reflects the spirit in which the university was founded more than a century ago.

"Think about the community we can build here if we all live out the simple commitment that each person is precious," the president said. "Think about the community we can build if we accept the idea that 'precious' includes difference, for it is the one different from me whose fresh perspectives and unique experience can truly stretch my envelope and help me grow."

Travis Anderson, an African-American student leader applauds the university for cultivating that climate, but he and others yearn to see an even more diverse population.

"I chose Pacific Lutheran because it has a good business school, a good music department and a small size," said Anderson '03. "It's a great school, but there is a lack of diversity."

Students say having more people from underrepresented groups will make everyone feel more included.

"You look and you don't see anyone who is really like you," said Roxanne Badillo '02, a Hispanic student from Bellingham, Wash., who serves as ASPLU's diversity director. "It needs to be a place of inclusiveness, and it's getting there."

Maeda '02 is willing to help people understand, but as a Japanese American from Hawaii, she has had uncomfortable moments.

 

"When I first came here, people asked me if I lived in a grass hut," she said. She has explained repeatedly that she is from Hawaii, but not Hawaiian.


Michael Mallicote '02 and Roxanne Badillo '92, take part in the Diversity Town Meeting in October. Another town meeting will be held in the spring.

Knowing that a diverse inclusive campus is a gift, administrators and faculty intend to foster a climate that encourages students from different backgrounds to embrace PLU.

"By having a diverse campus, PLU can be powerful," said Bill Teska, associate provost. "Each of our histories are different, so collectively we can be reflective of the society in which we live."

PLU has not set any specific goals regarding enrollment of minorities, President Anderson said, except this: "Keep working."

PLU ranks No. 2 among Lutheran colleges in the number of American minority students and is first in the number of international students. Still, administrators acknowledge the demographics could be improved-to everyone's benefit. To that end, the university has focused on attracting a diverse population of students and employees by supporting student groups and programs, creating a task force to explore the climate on campus and looking critically at its own mission.


Jacqueline Harmon '98 performs part of her one-woman show "Blackbird Singing," at PLU. The show celebrates the legacy of African-American divas and their contribution to opera music.

The numbers of minority students have gone up. Students classified as "multi-ethnic" number 451 this year, making up 13.2 percent of the student body, up from 8 percent in 1991. Asian-Americans are the largest group, followed by African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and those who identify themselves as multi-racial, a category the university began tracking in 1999. Diversity is also enhanced by students of different faiths, students with disabilities, older students and sexual minorities.

In addition, there are 195 international students enrolled this year, coming mostly from Scandinavia and Asia.

By contrast, minorities make up more than 22 percent of the population in Pierce County, about 26 percent in Parkland, more than 30 percent of Tacoma and 18 percent of the state, according to the 2000 Census.

Work to enroll and retain more minority students should continue at a fast pace, said Beth Kraig, a history professor and member of the University Diversity Committee. The university can't simply be pleased with progress.

"The positives should never be taken as a sign that we've come far enough," Kraig said. "It should be seen as a sign that we can do this."

Minority students want a sense of ownership
Darius Alexander '02 and his friends want to reach out to the PLU community and beyond. They and other motivated students who belong to B.L.A.C.K.@PLU volunteer off-campus, giving speeches at middle schools and talking to youngsters about preparing for college and accepting people of all backgrounds. He also organized a step show on campus, featuring the rhythmic dancing and stomping made popular in the black community, to bring people from the community to PLU.

Students are forming more organized groups to spotlight their cultures and introduce them to PLU. Clubs now include the Korean Club, Hawaii Club, Asian Pacific Islander Club, B.L.A.C.K.@PLU, Puentes for Latino students, Harmony for gay and lesbian students and their supporters, the Feminist Student Union, the Diversity Coalition, Norwegian and other international student groups and social activists. Programs run throughout the year to bridge the gap between groups and get people talking to each other.

The establishment of the new Diversity Center, which opened on the lower level of the University Center last fall, went a long way in showing the university's commitment to multiculturalism and giving students a campus home of their own.

Most minority students say they haven't experienced any overt discrimination but say some PLU students - and teachers - could be more sensitive. Students don't want to be singled out in class to speak from a presumably different point of view simply because of their race. They want to be seen and heard on campus, but they don't want to be made into token minorities for photos or events.

"If there are racist people, they're under the table, because they know it's not accepted," said Travis Anderson, who is taking a semester off to focus on his music. "I just think they're uninformed. People just need to learn."

Alexander has had several classes where he is the only person of color.
"I think I've opened my mind to a lot of other cultures, and hopefully I've helped some other people open their minds," Alexander said.

The faculty and administration have taken a strong stand on increasing understanding by requiring students to take two diversity courses focusing on alternate perspectives or cross-cultural perspectives, pursuing a diverse faculty and working with different departments to improve conversations between faculty and students.

Religion professor Samuel Torvend '73 says one of the core values of a Lutheran education is recognizing that a diverse community is a gift, and that we honor the dignity and difference in others.

"From the Lutheran intellectual perspective, nobody has to justify himself or herself," he said. "There's no place at a Lutheran university for discrimination."

The university aims to recruit faculty and staff from different backgrounds while appreciating those with long service to PLU and the church. Provost Paul Menzel is thrilled with the hiring of Deborah Miranda, a Native American English professor who brings a wealth of knowledge and important perspective to campus. And President Anderson said the university has been successful in creating a much more diverse staff.
"It's important to welcome faculty and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds to give richness and texture and lifelikeness to the place," President Anderson said.

Sexual minorities gaining wider acceptance
For some, it's not race, but sexual orientation that makes them feel disenfranchised. For gay and lesbian students and faculty, being recognized as a minority is an important step. Anytime someone is reduced to a stereotype based on one characteristic, it's hurtful, said Tom Campbell, English professor and co-adviser to Harmony. In the "robust tradition of academic freedom and the Lutheran tradition of open inquiry," he encourages people to open their minds to see sexual minorities as more than sexual beings and to start conversations.

A Lutheran university understands that each and every person is important and precious. None of the false walls that can be built around gender, race, sexual orientation or ethnic background have any place here.

- President Loren J. Anderson

Campbell said conversations about gay rights are taking place on campuses across the country as sexual minorities make their voices heard. "Like with any oppressed minority group, if they don't speak up, it's about silence and invisibility," Campbell said.


Campbell said much progress has been made since he and history professor Beth Kraig helped form Harmony in the early '90s. Students have learned to speak out, the campus appears more accepting of openly gay staff and students, and harassment of sexual minorities is specifically prohibited in university policies.

The university created a Commission on Campus Climate to assess the atmosphere and recommend ways to foster an inclusive and affirming community marked by care, mutual respect and an ability to engage in civil discourse.


LeAnn Jones '02 actively promotes diversity on campus through her involvement in many organizations. Last year, she was the ASPLU diversity director.

President Anderson formed the commission after anti-gay graffiti was spray painted on the administration building last fall. The university condemned the act, reiterating its belief that all people are welcome and worthy. Many students also were outraged, which got people talking about the importance of a diverse, open-minded campus. The university policy states that PLU "holds as basic the integrity and well being of every person in the community. It is committed to providing an educational environment that is fair, consistent, caring, and supportive of intellectual and personal growth."

"What we're trying to model is what the Lutheran Church would have us do," President Anderson said, "that is encourage conversation and discussion about gender identification and sexual identity."

Others support PLU's ongoing efforts.

"I think it is so strong of those people who do say they're gay," said Badillo, the ASPLU diversity director. "It is difficult for a lot of us minorities to see the sexual minorities having to deal with that discrimination."

Projects aim to improve climate, keep students

Students have produced a video, "Conversations About Diversity," to increase understanding. In it, students - some minorities, some not - discuss how they feel about diversity at PLU and their personal experiences. Teska, the associate provost, finds the video remarkable and moving. He and Eva Frey, associate director for multicultural affairs, are playing it for faculty members in an effort to provide them more insight from students' perspective.

If you want to be lackadaisical
and just fit it, this isn't the place for you. But if you want something to challenge you, if you want a great faculty and opportunities for leadership, if you want a place that will grow and change and you can see that growth, then PLU's the place for you.

- LeAnn Jones '02

The Commission on Campus Climate also had in-depth conversations with students, faculty and staff to assess the current climate and come up with ways to improve it.
"PLU students, faculty and staff agree that this is a remarkable community whose potential is not yet reflected in our reality," the commission concluded. "They share a vision of a community grounded in both faith and reason and yearn for these ideals to be lived more intentionally through stronger connections with each other and visible support for inclusion and diversity."

The commission recommended more clearly articulating the university's mission, revising new student orientation programs, revising the critical conversation courses and coordinating student religious activities more intentionally and effectively.

President Anderson said work started immediately to clarify the university's mission, to increase student understanding of the nature of a Lutheran university, to restructure student activities and encourage conversations. Among other things, the Provost's Office is reviewing the academic advising program and Student Life is working to promote greater interaction among student groups.


Alex Miyamoto '02 and Jodi Maeda '02 perform a traditional hula at the Hawaii Club's luau.

"I am grateful for the work that the Commission on Campus Climate has done to define a course toward a more concordant atmosphere on campus," the president said. "Now it is up to all of us to accept their challenge."

Many who have already taken that challenge are excited about the direction PLU is headed.

"It's been a really good year in terms of people taking a stand," said LeAnn Jones '02, who was ASPLU's diversity director last year and is active in many issues on campus. "There have been really solid programs this year in getting the message of diversity out. Everyone's kind of stepping it up a little bit."

Jones, who attended a Lutheran high school in Portland, Ore., and graduated with only 28 people, knew what it was like to be in the racial minority. But she was still surprised when she arrived to find that most of the 80-100 African American students she had been told attend PLU were older students who don't live on campus.


Melanie Melendrez '01 performs a one-woman acting scene at the Hispanic Night dinner sponsored by the Diversity Center.

"I didn't have anyone to really connect with," she said. "There are some times you just don't feel like you fit."

Retaining minority students through graduation is an important goal. A few African American students did not return to PLU for second semester last year. Kraig said she urges ambivalent or disillusioned students to stay, to make a difference.

"I tell them, the only way it's going to change is if you are here," Kraig said.

Jones said she has seen the commitment, and she tells prospective students of color to take a chance at PLU.

"If you want to be lackadaisical and just fit it, this isn't the place for you. But if you want something to challenge you, if you want a great faculty and opportunities for leadership, if you want a place that will grow and change and you can see that growth, then PLU's the place for you."

Continuing to foster the environment that creates growth and encourages inclusiveness will benefit the whole PLU community.

"We're called to prepare people to function in a world that is increasingly diverse, and that means we need to expose students to that," President Anderson said "Our campus world needs to be a diverse place in order to carry out its educational task. I think we do a pretty good job of that."

Eva Frey '95 is the associate director multicultural affairs. She has worked to strengthen on-campus student clubs and programming and helped win approval for the new Diversity Center.







 


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