The offices known as Diversity Development and Intercultural Student Services have been part of the same unit at Oregon State University for some time, but to increase clarity about their roles and to better serve students, the two units are now aligned under one name. The Office of Diversity and Cultural Engagement (DCE) is housed in the new Student Experience Center at the heart of the OSU campus.
It is positioned to become a national model for its focus on developing leaders and scholars from diverse backgrounds.
Half of the DCE’s funding comes from student funds, and much of this is used for student-centered programming and experiential learning opportunities.
“We know that if students are engaged and feel a sense of belonging and mattering they are more than likely to persist to graduation,” Director Allison Davis-White Eyes said. “Our goal is to create the kind of compelling learning environment that challenges students and helps them apply what they learn in the class room setting to real life experiences.”
The mission of the organization, according to its charter, is to help students to become ‘intellectual freedom fighters,’ who use critical thinking and intellectual engagement in their pursuit of academic success. They also encourage students to move beyond the classroom and to engage with off-campus partners and community members through internships and experiential learning opportunities, and to use their scholarship to solve real-world problems.
Davis-White Eyes explained that the DCE, and the Cultural Resource Centers administered by the office, are designed to provide all students with the opportunity for self-exploration, critical inquiry and academic success through coaching and leadership development. And although the term ‘diversity’ often indicates a program aimed at minority students, Davis-White Eyes said that all students benefit from the resources.
“In order for us to be relevant in the 21st century we must be radically inclusive to have white middle class voices in dialogue with us and sharing in finding common solutions to the shared challenges we have all inherited,” she said.
DCE provides underrepresented students with activities that build camaraderie and spaces where they can receive emotional and social support, crucial in a campus that can be overwhelming to students used to a more diverse community. In addition, the academic success programs assist students in navigating the university experience and provide extra support to achieve academic success.
Davis-White Eyes said being in the new Student Experience Center is a great opportunity because the shared space provides so many opportunities for student leaders, partners and allies to work together and develop a creative spirit of community.
The office has formed partnerships with many other organizations on campus that help broaden the scope of the work they can do, from working with the EOP and the Meyer Memorial Trust to provide academic coaching through the cultural resource centers, to sharing a half time employee with Student Leadership and Involvement to create training programs and workshops. They also have collaborations with several Schools within the College of Liberal Arts, Student Affairs and International Programs to build upon current programming and opportunities.
Davis-White Eyes said that a strong Office of Diversity and Cultural Engagement will help OSU be responsive to issues in higher education and society that are trending nationally, including issues of social inequality and structural violence, as well as the retention rates of students of color.
“OSU has a responsibility to address these issues, to make a difference,” Davis-White Eyes said. “To that end, the reorganization of our unit recognizes that we must address 21st century challenges and changes with new thinking.”