Chancellor Q&A: Diversity
Chancellor Q&A: DiversityMarch 04, 2002Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw recently sat down with Record Editor Kelly Homan Rodoski to discuss the issue of diversity at Syracuse University. The text of the conversation appears below:
In your inaugural address to the University in 1991, you identified diversity as one of the institution’s five core values and one of the defining characteristics that would be the foundation for the future. What do we mean by diversity, and why is it so important to the institution?
When we talk about diversity, we talk about what makes us similar and what makes us different. Our country, with all its warts, has embraced differences more often than not throughout our history. It has also embraced the expectation for certain commonalties; this duality creates the creative pressure we enjoy in a democratic society. Diversity can be seen as dealing with the similarities and differences of people-whether we’re talking about gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, race or ethnicity. Most often when Americans talk about diversity they are talking about race and ethnicity, but there’s more to it than that. In addition to describing the physical attributes of people, diversity pertains to ideas and beliefs. Are we a nation with uniform ideas and beliefs, or are there a variety of viewpoints dealing with just about every subject? Again, a viable society has a creative balance between embracing differences of viewpoints and having a common core of beliefs that allows a society to function.
This is the creative and practical dilemma and wonderful opportunity faced by those who live in a diverse society which describes the United States of America and many other countries.
In our ever-shrinking world, we know that diversity is inevitable-and diversity can be a strength, a force for positive change-or, as we’ve seen in a variety of worldwide racial and ethnic conflicts, diversity can be the excuse for people to treat one another in inhumane ways. With all of our warts-institutional and national-we tend to handle issues of diversity better than most countries. And I believe that Syracuse University handles issues of diversity better than most institutions.
Diversity is important to Syracuse University because our students will live in and will go out in this diverse world. They will live with people alike and unlike from them. They will work with people with a variety of viewpoints. And we should be educating our students through our climate here to be able to deal with people from all walks of life. In a series of “Buzzwords” (www.syr.edu/chancellor/buzzwords/) publications I wrote a few years ago, I talked about four principles ranked in order of the ease with which improvements can be achieved. I think they pertain today. In descending degree of ease of affecting change discrimination comes first. While it is difficult to deal with, it is often measurable and if the will is positive, change can occur. We move from that to the elimination of institutional barriers, then to creating an environment where we are tolerant of one another and can “do business” with anyone, anytime. We finally move to the highest level and the most difficult to attain-appreciation-a situation where we sincerely appreciate the uniqueness of each person we work and live with.
This is a never-ending cycle, but we should expect that our students are sufficiently exposed to the diverse world around them. Those that develop a higher level of tolerance and appreciation will have a much easier time living in this world but all here should grow from their SU experience. They should be better going out than coming in.
Diversity is identified as a priority in both the University’s Academic Plan and the Division of Student Affairs’ 2001-2006 Strategic Plan. An initiative of the Academic Plan calls for “enhancing the intellectual climate through diversity” by increasing the number of faculty of color. In what ways are we working to recruit and retain a diverse faculty?
Much of the Academic Plan has yet to be rolled out by Vice Chancellor (Deborah A.) Freund. As initiatives unfold it would be appropriate for her to talk about them. But for now I can say that we’ve made steady improvement in the diversity of our faculty and staff. For example, people of color now constitute around 16 percent of all faculty, compared to approximately 10 percent 10 years ago. Of the new hires over the past five or so years, about 20 percent have been people of color. Over half of our new hires have been women. We are making progress and the Academic Plan, under the vice chancellor’s leadership, will allow us to do even more.
The diversity aspect of the Academic Plan is in reality a continuation of what has been transpiring over the years, particularly as seen through the use of Vision Fund grants administered by the Office of Academic Affairs and other activities I will mention. Nine projects will be funded through this year’s Vision Fund. Additionally, 12 Chancellor’s Feinstone Grants for Multicultural Initiatives were awarded this year through the Division of Student Affairs. All these are sincere efforts on the part of our faculty and staff to make sure issues of diversity come to the forefront. I’m extremely impressed with the creativity that faculty and staff have shown in integrating the issue of diversity into many of our students’ experiences. The Vision Fund and the Feinstone program offer good evidence that with the right kinds of inducements people’s creative juices and commitment come forward.
Human Resources recently began a program through which all staff members receive diversity training. Why is imperative for a staff member to have this, even if he or she does not deal with students directly? What kind of diversity training will faculty members receive?
The training has gone well. There have been 18 sessions completed on diversity training with approximately 350 staff members attending. So far oral and written feedback has been very positive. I view this training as a bonus to the staff-an opportunity to learn more about the world that they live in. Staff can only benefit by improved understanding in this area. How to deal with faculty orientation and training is another matter. We will learn from this experience and perhaps have insights that will provide direction.
In February, The Daily Orange published a cartoon, “Posthumously,” that outraged many members of the University and local communities. In the cartoon, which is drawn by two students, a man with a black face crawls through the window of a white man’s apartment with the intention of stealing his belongings. The artists maintain that the black face was intended to be a ski mask; however many people interpreted the man to be African American. How do incidents such as this create opportunities for dialogue? How can we educate students on ways to be sensitive to their fellow students?
Such incidents do create an opportunity for dialogue, and there isn’t a lot of dialogue on race. There are occasional hurt feelings and occasional anger but little dialogue. We must continue to try to ensure that all of our members are sensitive to the feelings of others. But let’s acknowledge going in that there will on occasion be hurt feelings, because no matter how sensitive we try to be we stumble, whether that stumble be well-intentioned or not. I suggest we strive for tolerance. Intolerance is aided and abetted by a trend toward confrontation rather than cooperation. We see this on talk shows where guests shout at each other, on the streets where drivers tailgate and scream at one another, and on the Internet where hate groups gather to spread venom and hate and threats. Tolerance doesn’t mean that we always agree. Tolerance doesn’t mean that we never hurt someone else’s feelings. Tolerance means that we use our human relations skills to get beyond differences to consensus and success.
In one of my “Buzzwords” publications, I talk about how conflict resolution skills can help. In the simplest form it means that when we have differences we should be able to 1) listen closely to the other person’s point of view; 2) repeat what has been heard; 3) indicate areas of agreement; and 4) note areas of disagreement. Ours will never be a campus or a society where we don’t have differences of opinion, and indeed where we don’t hurt one another’s feelings. I regret this but it’s a reality. It’s how we deal with these issues that is important. And that is why tolerance is so important. For the most part, I think the discussion about The Daily Orange has been extremely positive and I think positive learning has occurred. It is unfortunate that there have been hurt feelings-and in the best world this would never happen-but it’s how we deal with it when it does that’s important.
Do you have any long-term concerns about The Daily Orange and its handling of the diversity issue in the future?
Yes. How The Daily Orange deals with diversity issues is but one of its many challenges. First of all, it’s a student newspaper. These aren’t paid professionals. Secondly, they’re putting out a newspaper five days a week with virtually no supervision. As I mentioned in a statement read at the University Senate meeting in February, I have concerns about some of the structural challenges faced by The Daily Orange. Not having oversight means there’s little sense of history so the same mistakes can be repeated. Not having a diverse staff means that it’s easy to miss what is painfully obvious to others. Attempting to produce a paper five days a week-basically with volunteers-adds to the challenge and to the difficulty of ensuring quality control. I’m pleased that the agenda committee of the University Senate is taking this matter up. Let us be quick to understand that we will never see the end of controversies about this or any other newspaper. It’s how we handle these controversies that is important. I’ll have other things to say about The Daily Orange in the months and years to come, I’m sure.
In your “Buzzwords” publications on diversity, you said that the University has a responsibility to diversity; to eliminating discrimination, removing institutional barriers, reaching toward tolerance and aiming for appreciation. Looking back on these past two years, how have we done? Where have we made great strides and what areas do we especially need to work on?
I think we’ve done some very good things, with the Feinstone grants, Vision Fund grants, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the lottery system for our residence halls and our improved recruitment of faculty and staff of color and women. So, I believe that we’re making progress. Have we eliminated discrimination? Far from it. But it’s a goal to work toward. The important thing is to ensure that our processes can effectively deal with discrimination. Toward this end the vice president of student services has introduced a new protocol that delineates how charges of discrimination and hate crimes are to be handled. We can also do a better job of eliminating institutional barriers when they’re identified but we have made some progress. Reaching towards tolerance and aiming for appreciation are goals we should all set, understanding that this is not easy. It is made even more difficult by having new student colleagues come in with turnover every four years. In other words, a somewhat new environment is created just about every year. But the beat goes on. This important issue must be addressed forthrightly and with as much skill as we can muster. We should challenge ourselves, but also acknowledge that there are no easy answers. With good intentions, though, and the willingness to confront issues, we can do better.