Diversity goal ‘lofty’ not unrealistic, but it will take more work

“Once people realize
that diversity is
a 21st century life
skill and not a
politically correct
issue, hear them
roar and get out
of their way!”

              ~ Terryl Ross

As our campus moves forward on its community and diversity journey, I now have better insight about the opportunities and challenges we face. 

Lesson Learned: Community Before Diversity

 First and foremost, I have made many mistakes in this position, the biggest being that I led with “diversity” rather than “community.” My work has two distinct sides: one that is celebratory and addresses our commonalities, and other that investigates institutional bias and “-isms.”  Trust is the single most important component in diversity work, and it rarely comes from the latter.  And at Oregon State, we simply have too many units that do not have enough community within them to get to the real diversity work that needs to be done. This is why I am now devoting more time and resources to community-building, fostering authentic dialogues, and communications.  

Biggest Disappointment: The Way Some People Treat Each Other

 I get to talk with literally thousands of OSU students, faculty, and staff each year, and more than anything else, I’m disappointed in the way some people treat each other. As a former Army officer, I walked among people with loaded guns who could have solved problems with a pull on the trigger. But it didn’t take me long to learn that people didn’t have to like someone to be able to work with them.

At OSU, I’m astonished at the number of people who cannot work with each other because of something someone said, something that happened years ago, something that didn’t agree with them. And there are way too many people who sit on the fence telling me what other people need to do and who have built-in excuses why they cannot do it themselves.

My personal low moment was when I looked into the tearful eyes of a small group of students who wondered aloud why this campus does not care about them. It broke my heart.  These students are someone’s children, people, and we need to do a better job of being their stewards. 

What Excites Me Most: Walking the Talk

 Disappointments happen, but what is working at Oregon State with diversity far outweighs what is not working.  I’m excited about all the people on this campus who are walking their talk and helping us to be more welcoming and inclusive.  I have personally witnessed amazing transformations by lots of people, particularly in the last two years.

Three campus units have rewritten their diversity action plans.  Individuals are volunteering to attend diversity-related workshops and events they never would have attended years ago.  Lots of units are collaborating with each other for the first time.

More than anything else, I am excited by the students who are doing diversity work. They are out there, and my office needs to do a better job of telling their stories and sharing the impressive diversity-related actions they are making OSU. Because once they realize that diversity is a 21st century life skill and not a politically correct issue, hear them roar and get out of their way! 

Vision of the Future: A Destination of Choice

Two of the many good things President Ed Ray presents really excite me: (1) our greatest contribution to the state of Oregon is our graduates and (2) OSU can be a university “destination of choice” for many more people.

When we incorporated these themes into our campus diversity action plan a few years ago, the number one complaint was that the plan was too lofty, too unrealistic.  I beg to differ.
 
When we do our diversity work right, our units and our classrooms will feel different.  People from all backgrounds will want to come here and they will stay here longer.  Better yet, they will go back to their home communities and tell others to come to OSU.  It will take a long time for OSU to look the way we want it to look, but getting it to feel the way we want it to feel is achievable — now.
 
I truly believe that we at Oregon State are headed in the right direction and that if just a few more people get actively involved in our diversity effort, a tipping point will be reached and a whole new wave of students and faculty and staff will join us because of what we are doing.   OSU, in fact, will become their “destination of choice.”

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Terryl J. Ross is director of the President’s Office of Community and Diversity at Oregon State University. He recently accepted for OSU the “Committed to Diversity” Award given by Minority Access Inc. for the university’s initiatives and best practices to create diversity on campus.  

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