The issues of diversity and campus climate have been on the front burner during the past several weeks due to several incidents on the Pullman campus. These events have prompted administrators to evaluate the progress made by the university over the past two years in diversity.
President V. Lane Rawlins, since his arrival in June 2000, has teamed with administrators, faculty, staff and students throughout the university to build a more diverse and tolerant atmosphere. Their stated goal is “to improve the climate on campus for faculty, staff and students, regardless of race/ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age or ability” and to see WSU recognized as a national leader in this area.
Rawlins and special assistant Milt Lang recently noted that many steps have been taken during the past 12 months to achieve diversity goals. Despite the progress, both Rawlins and Lang are quick to note that the effort is still in its early stages.
Recent events that emphasized the importance of this issue included a spray-painted message on the Terrell Mall sidewalk, vandalism to a residence hall bulletin board, posted fliers, and a flurry of editorials in the student newspaper.
Because diversity and campus climate are top priorities for the university, administrators are strongly supporting a detailed investigation of the incidents, responding to reports, evaluating advances made during the past year, and preparing plans for 2002 – 03.
On April 16, following the spray-painted message on the Terrell Mall, Rawlins provided a written response to faculty and staff through his e-mail Update and WSU Announcements, and to students through “The Daily Evergreen.”
Rawlins stated: “The supportive atmosphere at WSU that we strive for is being threatened. We continue to ask you to join us in letting those who spew hatred know that we will not accept it here.”
He tackled the issue head on in his April 15 President’s Dialogue and somewhat turned the tables on those questioning “What’s being done?”
First, he pointed to many processes that have been put in place during the past year. Then he encouraged and challenged faculty and staff to visit the university’s Web site and read about the progress the university has made, so that they might be better informed and able to assist students. (See Web site URLs below.) Finally, he called on faculty, staff and students to promptly and accurately report all violations of the university’s diversity policy.
During his dialogue, Rawlins described the campus climate/diversity issue as “a personal call to implement the university’s Strategic Plan.”
“If you look at the Strategic Plan, you will see that our third goal is to build a community where people can deal with each other in an environment of openness, trust and respect,” Rawlins said. “When I first read that, I thought, ‘You know, that is a funny goal to have in a strategic plan.’ But as I sat and read and thought about it … I actually got a little teary, because it is really as magnificent a goal as any institution could possibly strive for — to develop and create a community where we trust and respect each other and work together in an environment that seeks excellence.
“When talking about the implementation of our strategic plan, there really isn’t anything as important to me,” Rawlins said. “And I love having it on the front plate, instead of just saying, ‘Oh yeah, we care about diversity … and these other things.’”
Rawlins lauded the Strategic Plan, adding that inclusion of a goal on diversity wasn’t what he initially expected.
“It came out of a process that was a little unusual because it involved hundreds and hundreds of people across the entire campus, and emerged as something we all want. We really all want to be in a community that allows us to be ourselves, to embrace our own ideas and to feel free to be who we are, so long as we don’t kick other people around, or abuse or hate them. (That requires) trusting each other enough that we don’t have to always worry about what’s going on around us.
“We aren’t there yet, but we have certainly have come a long way in stating that as a major objective.”
Focusing on campus climate
WSU’s efforts to encourage a better racial and ethnic balance began in the 1950s, when people such as James Blackwell, who was just awarded the Regents’ Distinguished Alumni Award, were recruited to campus as students and instructors. From the 1960s through the 1980s, WSU followed a broad plan addressing civil rights, Affirmative Action and equal opportunity efforts.
In 1995, the university began designing and following a more focused plan to actively pursue diversity and recruit people of color. But the movement was accelerated in March 2000 when an altercation erupted between students attending an evening fraternity party involving alcohol. Rawlins, who arrived in June of that year, soon called for the formation of a Council on Campus Climate to study the situation and recommend how it could be best addressed.
The ad hoc council, comprised of 20 students, five faculty and five staff, was led by Lang, who, at the time, was the director of student recruiting and retention for the College of Education. The council split into four teams addressing single topics, including violence, recruitment and retention of faculty and staff of color, homophobia and racism. Little did Lang know that leading this effort would turn into a full-time position.
In April 2001, the Council on Campus Climate emerged with a full slate of recommendations. Rawlins, in turn, prioritized and narrowed the list to a size that was attainable within a reasonable length of time. That document was titled, “The Council on Climate Plan of Action.”
Now, one year later, Lang notes that “100 percent of the items listed in the first phase of the university’s action plans have been or are being fulfilled.”
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