Officials to debut new diversity campaign

Starting on Thursday, the campus community will be encouraged to rise above biases, prejudices, intolerance and discrimination through the launch of Rise Above, the university’s newest diversity campaign, at StampFest.

Following months of planning, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a department restructured in 2011, will kick off the university’s second-ever diversity marketing campaign Thursday in hopes of “engaging hearts and minds” to the university’s diversity goals, Chief Diversity Officer Kumea Shorter-Gooden said.

The campaign will award grants of up to $750 for campus initiatives that promote on-campus diversity and cultural acceptance through communication, as well as publicizing the campaign’s mission with colorful buttons, creative tabling and eye-catching fliers. After estimating the campaign will cost $10,000 over the 2013-2014 school year, officials set aside $20,000 for grants.

Last year’s grant program proved to be a success for the ODI. Officials invited community groups to apply for up to $15,000 in startup money for pilot projects that worked toward goals outlined in the university’s Strategic Plan for Diversity. They received 42 applications, but were only able to fund 11. Officials said they hope to see the same success with Rise Above.

“The rationale is to look into sound policies and procedures, but it is key to win over hearts and minds to avoid falling short,” said Shorter-Gooden, adding that the collective support from the roots would make cultural identity groups feel more welcome.

Students and officials, however, said it is unclear whether communications campaigns like Rise Above can be effective tools in promoting diversity, particularly as the word itself becomes a “stale, fatigued, and household term,” said Gloria Bouis, director of the Office of Diversity Education and Compliance.

The university’s first campuswide diversity campaign, “Moving Toward Community,” began in early 1998, Bouis said, but fizzled out in late 2004. The definition of “diversity” has since expanded beyond race to include sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, age and disabilities, although it is no longer a new concept.

“A lot of people see diversity as a ‘been there, done that’ concept. Frankly, people are not as excited as they were 10 years ago, so we have to move on to look at specific issues,” Bouis said, acknowledging that the campus is fairly diverse as it stands.

Freshman government and politics and psychology major Joshua Stanley said while the university has demonstrated its rigorous focus on improving minority retention, success and inclusiveness through initiatives such as creating an administrative position that addresses these goals, more focus should be placed on specific problems, for example a religious issue like distrust of atheists.

“I would like to see some more attention focused on inclusive and destigmatizing initiatives towards the secular demographic,” said Stanley, adding he brought up his concern with Shorter-Gooden.

While acknowledging biases and prejudice is the first step to promoting diversity, officials hope the campaign will dig deeper and, through collaborative grant projects, encourage “honest” dialogue that helps people understand where assumptions stem from, Shorter-Gooden said.

On the administrative end, the office has plans for a systematic campus assessment of workers’ rights issues later this year. Workers’ rights have become a prominent issue and the office is working to create a committee that will look at disparities in the tenure and promotion of minority faculty, among other problems. Shorter-Gooden also hopes to find ways to reach non-English-speaking audiences who may have limited access to assessments and other information.

“We can’t stop here,” Shorter-Gooden said. “This is just a platform from which we look inside, deep down, and understand where biases come from.”

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