Highlighting the Value of Diversity in Acadamia

Highlighting the Value of Diversity in Acadamia
A mandate from the top down remains key to the successful implementation of diversity initiatives.

It is my belief that there remains much work to be done in the area of diversity and multiculturalism in higher education. In 2007, there continues to be any number of community colleges and four-year institutions that have yet to even acknowledge the reality that such a need exists.

Nevertheless, I am pleased to be a part of an innovative, progressive, two-year community college that is not only talking the talk but walking the walk on these issues.

Founded in 1967 during the peak of the civil rights movement, College of the Mainland is well grounded on the principles, values and ideals of an educational democracy, in which all persons will have access and equal ability to participate in the educational process.

This community-oriented, forward-looking community college district has made enormous strides in fostering awareness of and appreciation for diversity, multiculturalism and global interdependence in higher education.

As executive director and in-house counsel for our Office of Diversity & Equity, I am proud to be instrumental in one such area of development and achievement. My position was created in the fall of 2003 by C of M President Homer “Butch” Hayes to not only direct, coordinate and evaluate employee recruitment programs, but to support the college’s previously existing diversity initiatives. Within a year, our newly formed Diversity Council had developed and began implementing a three-year strategic diversity plan aimed at strengthening recruitment and hiring practices.

Every member of the Multi-Culture Team completed an eight-hour diversity sensitivity training workshop that highlighted the value of diversity in academia and examined the obstacles towards its achievement. At least one of these diversity representatives serves on each search and selection committee. It is the duty of the chairperson of each committee to meet with me to ensure that we are reaching out to and attracting the most qualified minority applicants. Our efforts include identifying professional associations and/or industry publications that target historically underrepresented educational professionals. It is also important that the search committee have diverse members, including members whose positions would be organizationally aligned with the incoming employee’s. This would ensure that the committee had a vested interest in selecting the most qualified candidate.

Initiation of such aggressive, intense and comprehensive programs has not been without its challenges. It took several months to gain buy-in and convince the people doing the work that the additional efforts required would ultimately yield positive results. Moreover, board of trustees’ policies were needed to mandate the process. While change was difficult — replacing the “good ole boy” system with one that didn’t include criteria related to who you know — the end product makes everyone feel good because we all experienced a sense of fairness and satisfaction by doing the right thing for the right reasons. Another challenge that had to be addressed was the lack of cross-cultural competency. Dealing with the unknown or often misunderstood characteristics of diverse applicants further informed our professional development workshops, and everyone benefited.  

The following are a few highlighted numbers that contributed to our on-going success: Our hiring trends data revealed that, between Oct. 2004 and Oct. 2005, 31 percent of our new hires were ethnic minorities. This represents significant progress, considering that in 2001 only 17 percent of full-time faculty were ethnic minorities. That 17 percent was unacceptable on a campus where 40 percent of our students are ethnic minorities. By 2006, that figure had jumped to 25 percent.

We are now ready to embark on yet another three-year strategic diversity plan, and are in the process of redefining our college goals. Hopefully, this will help us realize our vision of becoming a valued and vital community partner, striving to enrich our expanding community and prepare our students for living, learning and working in a diverse and global environment. We are committed to diversity in higher education and will continue our efforts by tying our strategic diversity plan to the college’s mission.

We will continuously monitor our progress by annually developing an affirmative action plan, accessing our climate for diversity amongst students, staff, and faculty, as well as provide educational activities that will continue to inform and inspire our efforts.

– Lonica Bush-Sampson is the executive director and in-house counsel in the Office of Diversity & Equity at College of The Mainland in Texas City, Texas.

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