CORVALLIS - A series of recommendations from a student-driven task force on improving race relations at Oregon State University was unanimously approved by the president's cabinet, paving the way for widespread opportunities for diversity training that could affect virtually every student, staff and faculty member on campus.
The task force, which includes faculty members, also recommended that the university better coordinate efforts to respond to incidents of racial harassment, continue to expand resources and support for students of color, institute quarterly reports on the status of race relations and hold an annual open forum on OSU's diversity plans.
"These recommendations are comprehensive and they are inter-related," said Phyllis Lee, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at OSU. "You can't just pick one and say it will solve everything by itself. Together, though, they will ensure that everyone is involved."
The recommendations are the culmination of a summer-long effort by the T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Accomplishes More) task force, which was formed after a year during which campuses across the nation struggled with issues of diversity. OSU was no exception.
Despite making progress in a number of diversity-related areas last year, the university was shaken by an incident during which an African American student was subjected to racial epithets while walking by a fraternity. Angry students rallied and formed T.E.A.M., challenging the university to make the campus more sensitive to diversity.
"There was a real sense of frustration last year both by the students, who felt OSU wasn't adequately responding to student demands, and by the university, which felt it had make great strides that were not being acknowledged," Lee said. "We've all come a long way."
These new recommendations are right on target, said OSU President Paul Risser.
"They are challenging and they are comprehensive, but they also get right to the heart of what we as a university need to do," Risser said. "Creating an environment that welcomes diversity isn't a job for just Multicultural Affairs, or the Minority Education Offices. It will take the commitment of every single person at this university, and those who in some way touch this university.
"I'm very impressed with the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of the work of the students and the faculty and staff with whom they worked. This plan will form the backbone of our programs this year."
The recommendations include:
- 1) Strongly endorse race sensitivity training for all employees so they can develop and utilize skills that are critical to creating and sustaining a safe and welcoming environment for students of color.
- 2) Create a mechanism for coordinating efforts among appropriate university units and offices for responding to racial incidents.
- 3) Support the expansion of the memberships of the Associated Students of OSU Student Activity Committee and Student Conduct Committee in order to include broader representation of a wide range of diverse voices and views.
- 4) Provide and disseminate quarterly reports from the President's Office on the current state of race relations on campus; hold a yearly open forum on the progress of OSU's diversity plan.
- 5) Promote improved access to campus resources for students of color through internal marketing efforts.
- 6) Provide or co-sponsor race sensitivity training to targeted groups, for example, University Security, the Oregon State Police stationed at OSU, the Corvallis Police Department, and on-campus vendors.
- 7) Hold the Greek system accountable for living up to its commitment to its professed values of "virtue, scholarship, ethics, justice and friendship."
- 8) Advance the university's commitment to diversity by implementing new initiatives and increasing efforts in order to improve the general campus community's ability to address race issues.
- 9) Conduct and annual evaluation of the past year's progress each spring term."
"I really think the idea of open forums and regular reports are important," said Stephanie Tucker, an OSU senior and member of the T.E.A.M. task force. "They will not only show that the university cares, they will provide a place for students to let their feelings be known."
Task force members acknowledged the diversity efforts of OSU over time, and said there are few racially motivated incidents on campus. Yet, they add, students of color describe daily interactions that are offensive, including insensitive remarks about race, inaccurate or inflammatory historical or social references by faculty, discriminatory attitudes by on-campus vendors, and other behaviors.
"Taken individually, such incidents may unfortunately be viewed as insignificant," Lee said. "But their cumulative effect can be devastating when you have to deal with them day after day. It's important that people begin to understand that this is not a case of cultural over-sensitivity, but a real problem with severe consequences.
"Hopefully, the university's adoption of these recommendations will be a start toward that understanding and moving the university forward."