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Put-up or shut-up time for UW diversity

On Oct. 21, 2000, the Board of Regents, President McCormick, deans, directors and student and alumni leaders signed the UW Diversity Compact to usher in a new era of diversity at the UW. A recommitment ceremony took place Oct. 20 this year. As a person who has been part of the coalition of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community that helped create the substance for the compacts, I believe it is put-up or shut-up time for UW diversity!

The UW is committed to becoming a "world-class university" in the 21st century. It wasted no time to raise tuition once given the green light by the state Legislature. Over the next few years, you will see major campaigns and projects designed to position UW as a national leader instead of just a regional one. But the UW will never be great unless it takes care of its own campus and follows through on its commitment to diversity.

How do we get there? There are three key steps that need to be taken before this journey begins:

We must understand what "diversity" means.

For many people, diversity is about statistics -- they see it as a problem or obstacle that needs to be overcome. They see it as unqualified people of color taking away from what is rightfully theirs. When they talk about diversity, they talk in numbers. They focus on differences among people. This is the "deficit" model of diversity.

Then there are those like me who believe that diversity is the most important issue in society today. More lives will be affected by what we do (or don't do) with diversity than by any other issue. We see diversity as a rich mosaic that has the potential to transform society to a higher plane. When we talk about diversity, we talk in living stories that have been created by the authentic voices of people. We may focus on different aspects of diversity, but we are united in our belief that everyone needs to be included and that we need to think about the next generation. We focus in on the sameness in people. This is the "asset" model of diversity.

At its most basic level, diversity is "finding the sameness in difference." At a deeper level, it is "understanding that the UW family is made up of different members, and in order for our family to survive, all members need to be valued and included." At its most profound level, it is "knowing why it is in our interest to be tolerant and inclusive of others."

We must understand the unique obligation the UW has as the region's major research university.

The UW gets more federal research funding than any university in the United States except Johns Hopkins. As the largest research university in the region, we are obligated to educate the next generation of leaders, be an intellectual think tank for key issues and ask the tough questions that no one wants to ask. We are supposed to be the eyes and ears for the region and lead it down paths that are in its best interest. In addition to being a national leader on medical and technological issues, the UW needs to guide us in the social sciences of how we are going to live on this planet. We play a national role in exploring the depths of the oceans and the heights of space, but have shown no leadership in exploring the final frontier of diversity.

The greatest threat to our lives on Earth is our inability to get along with each other. Hopefully, the Sept. 11 downing of the World Trade Center serves as a wake-up call that our society needs to have a sense of urgency in diversity.

On a local level, we live in one of the two states in the country that voted to abolish affirmative action. It was no accident that the deficit modelers of diversity who sponsored Initiative 200 came to Washington state. We live in a city where a mentally ill black man was shot to death, and the officer who shot him was awarded "Officer of the Month" by his peers. We live at a campus where our own campus police were guilty of racial profiling some innocent teenagers who were invited here to attend our inaugural diversity fair.

It is hard to get where we are going if we don't know where we've been.

The UW of the 20th century became a national leader in several academic, research, athletic and artistic areas, but clearly failed in its obligation to be a regional leader in diversity. It was not very inclusive of diversity until 30 years ago when students from the Black Student Union took over the Administration Building and forced the University to create what is now called the Office of Minority Affairs.

The Diversity Compact is the most promising accomplishment that has taken place since then. Everyone who is part of the UW family needs to know how unique it is to have a compact and how difficult it was to create. I am not aware of any other college in the nation that has a diversity agreement that was initiated by students and signed by all stakeholders.

During the last three years, the Multicultural Organization of Students Actively Involved in Change (MOSAIC) was part of a special coalition of people who stood up for diversity on this campus in a unique way. Be clear that it was the combined will of numerous individuals and organizations that presented a diversity plan to the UW regents. MOSAIC was a messenger, but it was not the message.

The message was the authentic actions of others who stood up for what they believed in. Those people are:

* Chris Knaus, former student regent, who said that students should speak directly to the UW regents

* Cynthia Del Rosario, who believed the UW should step up its commitment to diversity and modeled the UW Diversity Pledge after the Berkley Pledge

* David Roberts, who suggested that the Brotman Award should be awarded for diversity

* Erin Lennon, who led a group of students against I-200

* Jamie Clausen, who believed that the Graduate and Professional Student Senate should make diversity a priority

* Jasmine Weaver, former ASUW president, who allowed student diversity leaders to present to the regents during her report time

* JD Leza and Jim Rodriguez, who lead the effort to get an ethnic-studies requirement only to be voted down by faculty each time

* Jim Rodriguez, who believed that we should have an annual diversity summit

* Johnnella Butler, who believed that graduate students needed to be included in UW diversity efforts

* Manuel Sierra and Rose James, who believed that the UW should have an annual diversity fair

* Tyrone Porter, who created the Minority Think Tank

* Tyson Marsh, who created the EMPOWER program

* Vivian Lee and the Multicultural Alumni Partnership (MAP), who believed that the UW needed a homecoming event to welcome alumni and potential students to campus

* Webster Walker, who encouraged supporters of diversity to write for Ruckus and The Daily

It is also important to acknowledge that none of this would have happened if it weren't for a group of regents and a president who were open to it. There was a time when I thought President McCormick was the main obstacle to diversity. Some of our earlier exchanges were not always pleasant. But the truth is that he is so much more amenable to diversity than his predecessor, President Gerberding, ever was. President McCormick has convinced me via his words, hires and actions that he is committed to diversity and he needs to be commended for standing with us when the time was right.

Students entering the UW this quarter comprise the first class to begin its education in the new millennium. What type of university will the UW be in the 21st century?

On one hand, there are reasons for extreme optimism in diversity-related areas:

* UW recruitment programs have expanded in high schools across the state.

* There is now a $35,000 Brotman Diversity Award that goes toward helping a department or program that is committed to diversity.

* The UW portion of the Costco scholarship fund has raised millions for deserving students.

* The Ethnic Cultural Center has been expanded into an impressive new facility.

* The Multicultural Alumni Partnership "Bridging the Gap" Distinguished Alumni breakfast is the largest non-athletic, alumni event on campus.

* A campus-wide diversity council is being formed.

* GO-MAP has been created to meet the diversity needs of graduate students.

* There is now an annual diversity fair which brings potential students to campus.

But on the other hand, there are reasons for extreme concern in diversity-related areas:

* The UW is the only state university not to have some type of ethnic studies requirement for its students.

* Enrollment figures for underrepresented minorities are almost the same as they were 20 years ago.

* The percentage of faculty of color is one of the smallest for a college of this size in the nation.

* There are halls, floors and departments that have no racial and ethnic diversity.

* The UW has created no widespread programs to involve the surrounding community in diversity-related matters.

* There is no centralized diversity-training program available at the UW.

* There are no efforts aimed at addressing institutionalized racism, anti-bias at the UW.

If I had the power to improve UW diversity, I would start in two key areas. First and foremost, I would encourage all senior-level administrators on campus to honor the UW commitment to diversity. You have failed to follow the lead of your regents and your president in a meaningful way. Quit talking about diversity and do something. Make it a priority in your departments and divisions. Conduct diversity audits to find your strengths and weaknesses. Commit funds to diversity. Seek out diversity trainers who can guide you through the process. Attend campus-wide diversity events. Talk to your staff about diversity; they might surprise you.

Finally and most importantly, I would encourage all people who believe that diversity is an asset to stand up and get active. The Diversity Compact is not the end of the effort, it is just the beginning. There is no substitute for your authentic voice! Chances are that if you don't do it, it won't get done. Know that you are not alone. Be encouraged that many of the major diversity achievements that are currently in place at the UW came because small groups of people got together and made them happen, inch by inch.

In closing, it is important to remember that as the region's largest research university, the UW has an obligation be a diversity leader and change agent. How can we be a "world-class university" when we graduate students who do not have a basic understanding of diversity or when we fail to engage our region in an authentic dialogue about diversity? We need to explore how to eliminate institutional racism. We need to create projects that transform stereotypes about race, gender and religion. We need to include people who have alternative lifestyles, people with disabilities and people from other countries. Most importantly, we need to help all of us understand why it is in our best interest to be tolerant of and be inclusive of people who are different.

Vision starts at home. It is only when we take care of matters on our own campus that we have the authenticity to speak to others. Make diversity a priority. It is time to put up or shut up. Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way!

Terryl Ross is president of MOSAIC and a board member of MAP and the UWAA.

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