By COURTNEY DITTO
Starting with the hiring of Arnett Chisholm as the first Dean of Diversity and Inclusion last year, Washtenaw Community College has been increasing its effort on giving diversity emphasis within the school and making it an institutional goal. Evidence of these efforts was presented by Chisholm when he laid out his plans to the board of trustees. Despite the effort being put into diversity and inclusion, Trustee Diana McKnight-Morton saw a fundamental issue of lack of diversity within WCC’s own staff and faculty.
“They are not hiring people of color, and it’s being worked on, but it has to stop,” McKnight-Morton said. “I don’t care how long that takes; we need to get more people in this institution because we are diverse. We talk about diversity, yet where is the diversity?”
During a presentation at the Sept. 21 board of trustees meeting reviewing the hiring of minority faculty, it was addressed numerous times that although the number of minority and women faculty have increased in the last five years despite a decrease in employment, there is still a hole of concern in the faculty where diversity should play more of a part.
The presentation showed a 33% increase in minority applicants, and it then became a question of why there isn’t more hiring of those applicants. McKnight-Morton had asked, stating first that she was aware of possible repercussions of doing so, if the hiring had more to do with skin color or qualifications.
McKnight-Morton made a point that many students of different cultures come into school feeling as though they don’t have somebody to relate to when there aren’t faculty to match their culture or have an understanding of where they come from.
Spanish teacher Olivia Wylie approached the board to ask, “What are we doing at Washtenaw to embrace the Latino culture?” Wylie pointed out that in the history of WCC, there has never been a full-time Latino faculty member, and that by rectifying this, there will be more retention of the growing numbers of Spanish-speaking students. “When we talk about diversity, I want to see more of it,” Wylie said.
Chisholm was also in agreement that diversity is important amongst not only students, but staff as well.
“I would like to see more diversity within the faculty because I think it will affect not only enrollment, but also help with retention of students so that they don’t feel like they don’t have somebody they can identify with,” Chisholm said.
Though there was no clear answer on how to solve the issue, President Rose Bellanca suggested publicizing our school in more environments and locations to recruit more diverse faculty. Bellanca said she takes a very personal approach when it comes to diversity and inclusion and agreed that more needs to be done to expand that knowledge and culture.
“I’m going to go there and say I totally agree that there isn’t enough diversity in the faculty. We need to work with the faculty and take a look at our hiring procedures while still being careful to follow the law and find the best candidates,” Bellanca said.
Despite speculation of a lack of acknowledging diversity at WCC, a series of positive changes have been made in efforts to expose students to diversity in the last year alone, such as the option to have preferred names printed on school IDs. Gender-neutral bathrooms will also be available in the buildings at WCC in 2016, and just last November, a change was made in the school’s non-discrimination policy to further protect the diversity at WCC. This was the first time in two decades that the board of trustees approved any change in policies according to Jason Morgan, director of government and community relations.
“Seeing the college advance so far in one instant is so powerful. We need to make sure we’re protecting our people and our community here at WCC,” Morgan said. “And this came out of students, community and faculty talking to the board and pushing for a change.”
Upon being appointed as the first Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, Chisholm has been vehemently dedicated to putting an end to discrimination at WCC. He strives to provide more knowledge about the number of distinct cultures and lifestyles on campus. Chisholm has worked with students, faculty and board members to make the vast diversity at WCC a priority. On Sept. 23, WCC’s first Diversity Day was hosted by Chisholm, and students were invited to interact with clubs at WCC that stand against discrimination such as Outspace Club, International Student Association, and many more.
“What I am trying to do is showcase the diversity here on WCC’s campus and make it a more welcoming campus overall,” Chisholm said. “Diversity, to me, is understanding different cultures and being able to get along with anyone and everyone here on this campus.”
Although the term diversity has a universal definition, the meaning of the word itself is purely individual. The core definition of “diversity” is as follows: “the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.,” and at Diversity Day, students were asked what diversity meant to them personally.
“To me, it means inclusion from everybody. It means being and knowing that you’re part of something bigger. It’s about making sure everybody knows that they’re not alone,” Chris Wheeler, 23, from Ypsilanti and vice president of the Outspace Club said.
Diversity is a subject being touched on more and more as time passes, and though there are improvements to be made and concerns to be addressed, change is possible if administrators such as Chisholm and Bellanca continue fighting for that transformation. A very personal approach is taken by Bellanca, who talks about her experience growing up as a first generation American.
“I have a lot of respect for diverse culture, that’s what makes this country great and that’s what makes this college great,” Bellanca said.