Diversity (page 3)
came from Colorado Springs with a keen interest in social justice and became an ICL regular.
"My involvement with ICL was integral to the learning and activism I've done at Cornell," said Schneider. ICL connected her to groups and other activists on campus.
"Most of all, Ken and ICL helped me to understand my own privilege in a non-confrontational manner," she said. "Thinking about race shouldn't be scary or confrontational but an everyday occurrence, because racial and cultural differences shape every interaction a student has on campus or in the world. When I came to campus, people started talking, people argued and shared ideas. That's why I love Cornell; I'm not the only person asking 'why?'"
"College isn't just about career preparation in the traditional sense," she added. "For me it was much more about learning how to understand how I fit into the world and how to get along with and value those who are different from me."
For students who choose to explore, opportunities for cultural sampling are endless, and the chance to see the world through a different lens, priceless. "It creates this richer environment," Levine said. "And for me that really goes to the heart of a liberal arts education, that it should be this opportunity for students to explore themselves, to explore the world, to really shape their knowledge base and their beliefs and their way of dealing with each other and dealing with the world, and taking that out with them when they graduate."
Student Affairs encompasses ICL and is an active ally. This fall, for instance, the two offices launched a special orientation program for students of color. While ICL already pairs incoming minority and international students with peer mentors through a program called PALS (Prepare, Achieve, Learn, Succeed), student feedback indicated that more culturally-specific orientation would help. Now, international students and students of color receive a full day of orientation to give them a crash course on living in Iowa before other first-year students begin new student orientation.
Junior Angie Rivera arrived in the foreign land of Cornell her freshman year with a rice cooker and a winter coat in her suitcase. The Hawaiian had never experienced a season other than summer. Her native language is Hawaiian Creole English and her diet staple, even in her high school cafeteria: sticky rice.
She watched that fall unfold with fascination, and dug into Cornell life with the help of her PALS mentor, her Connect Floor friends, and the culinary kinship she developed with her Vietnamese roommate. The first time snow fell she watched solemnly through a window, delaying heading into the flakes for as long as possible. She and a fellow West Coast friend feared "ending up as popsicles under the snow and coming out in the spring," Rivera recalled.
When asked why she left Hawaii for Iowa—and she is asked often—Rivera said it was affordability, One Course At A Time, and the quiet of a small college town. "And I tell them," she said, "if I could survive a Midwest winter then I could handle anything."
In Cultural Anthropology and Ethnic Studies classes, though, she found another kind of cold front. "I learned just how ignorant some people were of other cultures and ethnicities," Rivera said.
"One example happened in my Cultural Anthropology class. Our professor was discussing the Native Americans and how they had contracted small pox. When she asked the class how this happened, one student threw both his hands up and said 'We did!' Obviously this student was Caucasian, as was the majority of the class, who laughed," Rivera said.
In response Rivera created Ná Keiki O Ka 'A'ali'i, an organization designed "to educate the campus and community about Hawaii's culture, and the cultural barriers which students from Hawaii encounter."
Diversity in the classroom will only continue to help students develop a more complex worldview, said Barnes-Brus. "It can also be difficult, as students work not to reinforce stereotypes of others, as they cautiously listen to their peers, and as they try to make sense of how their perception of diversity shapes the way they interpret the materials in front of them."
The number of courses incorporating race and ethnic studies has risen in tandem with each year's increase in multicultural students in Cornell's classrooms. So has the number of female professors at Cornell, closing a gender gap that was noted in an audit 10 years ago.
Ethnic diversity among faculty is yet another way colleges can enhance a minority-friendly climate. Here, a gap has yet to be filled.
"That's been a real challenge," said Dieker, who as dean of faculty is in charge of recruiting new professors. Cornell's faculty in 2010–11 was 94 percent white. Of the 36 full professors, just two are "faculty of color."
"Seeing more African-American faculty would be beneficial," said Claire Solak, an African-American from suburban Denver whose high school was mostly white, and who jokes, "I came to rural Iowa and got my cultural experience."
According to Dieker, the challenge is this: Cornell seeks only the most qualified of candidates for its academic positions. The number of qualified minority candidates still lags behind and those candidates are pursued by larger schools with more attractive compensation and, often, a more diverse community.
In the past year Cornell has made changes to the way it recruits, changing language, for instance, in its postings. "But obviously," Dieker said, "it's an ongoing goal."
Morris would like to see the college be more intentional about bringing in faculty and staff of color. "We shouldn't be content with the notion that people won't come here because we are a rural community," he said.
And, as the college increases the number of students of color, he asks, "Where are our goals for inclusion? And then what are we doing to sustain this? Will this be Ken's agenda solely or will it continue under someone else's leadership someday?"
In the working world, the safety net of ICL won't exist. There, Cornell alumni see how the college experience with diversity has real-world application.
"Diversity is not as much about counting people as it is about making people count," said Cornell trustee Steve C. Anderson '75, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Alexandria, Va. "While demographic statistics provide important measures of progress, the benefits of multiculturalism really flourish when an organization commits to building true cultural intelligence. That means making it a priority to engage each member of a diverse team, empowering unique perspectives to create a more vibrant and varied environment, and as a result a better end-product.
"I see these strategies produce extraordinary results within organizations and across industries. The continued focus on weaving diversity into the fabric of a Cornell College education will build ever-stronger students and an ever-stronger institution of higher learning."
Asked to assess Cornell's environment, from the point of view of his years as a student, a staff member, and returning to campus for programming, diversity consultant Moore said the college is gaining ground.
"Brother Ken Morris' work as director of intercultural life continues to provide excellent diversity programming, including bringing me back as an alum. Additionally, he has supported the White Privilege Conference by sending students over the years. Ken's work, to me, is a strong positive signal about Cornell's commitment to addressing issues of diversity, privilege, and leadership at the college. They aren't there yet, but the work is happening and that makes me very proud to call myself a Cornell College alum."
Morris, "five years and countless stories" into his job, sees no room for complacency in his mission.
"I'm excited to come to work because we're making progress," Morris said. "And yet it's not perfect and we're not happy with that either. I want to help make Cornell a more progressive institution and live out our mission."
In his vision of a perfect world, there would be no Office of Intercultural Life. In that world, diversity would be fully interwoven into campus life, Morris said. In that place there would no longer be "Ken's students."
Instead, they would fall under one label: "Cornell's students."