Diversity starts at the top on UW-Whitewater campus
WHITEWATER Two years after a handful of hate crimes on and off the UW-Whitewater campus, leaders of three organizations for minority students said they feel safe and comfortable on campus.
They said the school's administration has shown a commitment to diversity.
The administration's resolve was demonstrated in 2010 when a woman wearing a "Legalize Gay" shirt was attacked, said Bethe Croy, president of IMPACT, a group that serves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
"The administration was very supportive and reacted quickly and decisively," Croy said. "The LGBT community, for the most part, believes the campus is safe and the university is committed to diversity among all students, including the LGBT community."
UW-Whitewater operates under an umbrella of inclusive excellence, UW-Whitewater Chancellor Richard Telfer said.
As an example, he pointed to this year's Campus Diversity Forum, an annual event to promote and nurture the school's mission of inclusive excellence. The diversity program was taken beyond speeches and guest appearances to include classroom workshops to give students a first-hand look at diversity issues.
"I didn't take it into the classroom," Telfer said. "The faculty, staff and students did that. They see that they are able to get the educational outcomes they want more effectively if we deal with diversity as part of it."
Inclusive excellence is more than a slogan at UW-Whitewater, Telfer said.
"Excellence is important because we want people who go through our programs to gain that measure of excellence from the work they do here," he said. "Inclusive means regardless of what group you might be in at home or here, you have access to that excellence."
The school's commitment to diversity was put to a test in 2010. In November of that year, three black students reported their cars had been vandalized. Someone spray painted "KKK" on the vehicles' doors and hoods. Two students, presumed to be lesbians, were attacked earlier in the semester.
Students organized a campus-wide rally following the vandalism. Administrators followed with forums and various events top promote awareness. A "We Are All Purple" campaign followed the two student attacks including a "United Against Hate" button campaign and the "Sing Against Hate" event in he University Center.
Mark McPhail, dean of the UW-Whitewater College of Arts and Communication since June 2010, noticed the university's responses. He said he had taken a $30,000 pay cut to work at UW-Whitewater because of the school's dedication to diversity. He made more as a department chair at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Two people—Telfer and Beverly Kopper, UW-Whitewater provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs—also made a difference for McPhail, who is African American.
"They made me feel as if I would be able to work with people who I knew were sincere and committed, not just to diversity but to academic values," McPhail said.
"We live in a very diverse society, so I think one of the things we need to do is prepare ourselves to work with people who may be in some ways different from us," Telfer said. "People do better if they are able to work with a wide range of individuals."
McPhail said he knows the difference between claiming diversity and practicing it. He talked about two black candidates who were finalists for an administrative position at a West Coast university.
"Race, in this example, has been eliminated as a factor, so it comes down to academic credentials," said McPhail, an African American. "We should look at all of the work you have done, all your experience and all of your publications. But, none of that made a difference in this case. They hired the least qualified candidate."
"They feared black excellence because it does not fit the stereotype," he said.
McPhail said choosing the least qualified from two candidates of color follows a twisted logic.
"It makes all the sense in the world if you understand the dynamics of race relations in this country," he said. "The same people who criticize affirmative action and complain that the least qualified get hired engage in that behavior in an ongoing basis."
McPhail said that has been his experience repeatedly during his 30 years in American higher education.
Diversity, in addition to social advantages, is necessary for the university to carry out its core mission, to prepare students for success, Kopper said.
"What drives me is to ask what is in the best interests of our students," she said. "We have, as a university mission, open access, and we pride ourselves in being welcoming to all students, faculty and staff of diverse backgrounds.
"In terms of preparing our students to be successful, it's important for all of our students to be exposed to a variety of people," she said. "Diversity is absolutely critical to that mission."
This year's Campus Diversity Forum brought historical perspective to UW-Whitewater students in their classrooms.
Participants in the 1964 Freedom Summer Project who risked their lives to help blacks in Mississippi register to vote traveled to Whitewater to share their experiences.
"Freedom Summer is an example of how students' hard work, discipline and compassion profoundly changed history," McPhail said.
Anthony Bounds said he sees examples of diversity on the UW-Whitewater campus. The Milwaukee Riverside High School graduate is a member of Omega Psi Phi, a black fraternity that's been on campus since 1974.
"We're a small fraternity with just seven members this semester, but we stress quality, not quantity," Bounds said. "In addition to our work on campus, we are involved in the community."
Examples of community service include working with Big Brothers Big Sisters, incoming freshmen and students in need.
"You could say with lift as we climb," Bounds said. "I think we're beyond signs of apparent racism, and that allows us to be involved on campus and in the community in a meaningful way."
An Omega Psi Phi campus activity was shut down by the administration and remains an issue with Bounds.
"We held a raffle to provide $100 scholarships to students in need," Bounds said. "That doesn't sound like a lot of money, but in makes a difference for some students in terms of tuition, rent, books and other needs."
State laws regulating raffles require a license, which the fraternity did not have.
"I understand the state requirements, but I'm disappointed that the administration did not help us out on that," Bounds said.
When informed of the situation, McPhail said he would work with the fraternity to find a way to provide the funding through university channels.
Racial diversity or a lack of diversity usually is easy to see. Inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students is not as obvious.
Croy appreciates the administration's support for the LGBT community but admits there's more work to be done.
"Our office in the Resource Center has a back door for those who come to us for advice or support but aren't ready to be identified with the LGBT community," Croy said. "That will be a measure of success when we no longer have a need for the back door."
Croy is concerned about the fear many straight students have in supporting LGBT students. They are called straight allies.
"You just know that most students oppose discrimination in all its forms," Croy said. "But, there is a reluctance to support LGBT efforts for fear of being accused of being gay, for example."
Croy likened the issue to President Obama's religion.
"In the 2008 election, there was a controversy over whether he was a Christian or a Muslim," Croy said. "As with LGBT, when will we all be able to say, 'So what?'"
Vania Morales believes diversity requires inclusion of all groups. That's the focus of Latinos Unidos, an organization on campus working with other minority groups to break down racial barriers.
"It's hard to imagine a truly diverse society when there is a divide between minority groups," Morales said. "That's why MASS, the Multicultural Affairs and Student Success organization, is so important."
Latinos Unidos promotes cultural sensitivity, Morales said.
"We need to recognize where all students are coming from, students from different cultural backgrounds," she said. "Often, we tend to just stay within our own groups when we should be reaching out to others.
"It will take time, but we are working through MASS to get to know other students and their cultures better," Morales said.
The Wall of Prejudice planned for spring will give students an opportunity to express views and promote diversity, Morales said.
"Students will write down examples of prejudice on the wall, and then we will tear the wall down at the end of the week as a symbol of breaking through those problems," she said. "By better understanding all forms of discrimination, not just those that affect our individual groups, we will be able to move forward on true diversity."