January 25, 2008

COMMENTARY: Diversity Dogs

Walking on the Ledge:
Diversity Growlings Cause JCCC Top Dogs to Bark Back

By Miguel M. Morales

Disaster programs on cable TV show how dogs, sensing an earthquake, run around barking in the moments preceding the disaster. Well, that’s kind of what’s been happening with diversity over the last few years at JCCC. There’s some chaotic running and barking on campus.

People bark about possible mandatory diversity trainings. They bark about student-sponsored gay pride events. They bark about expanding our nondiscrimination policy. They bark about students on campus who -- on their own time -- speak languages other than English.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about running and barking. Sensing campus tremors and quakes comes naturally to a student journalist

However, what’s happening isn’t about warning of an impeding disaster. It’s an irrational fear -- like dogs afraid of thunder.

This morning Terry Calaway, president of JCCC; Dana Grove, executive vice president of Academic Affairs; and Marilyn Rhinehart, vice president of Instruction, posted a message to the college’s electronic mail server, Infolist.

Their post, like a crash of thunder, echoed across campus and has dogs yelping.

“JCCC has demonstrated its commitment to diversity recently by implementing a number of actions affecting change,” the posting reads. “It has come to our attention that some have questioned certain of these actions. To be frank, we are surprised that such concerns have been raised.”

The message describes the two-year process of adding a diversity requirement to the college’s Associate of Arts degree.

“For the requirement to be questioned by anyone on campus seems untimely,” they write.

The trio also describes another action: hiring Carmaletta Williams, professor of English, as the executive assistant to the President, Diversity Initiatives.

“Academic Freedom and Shared Governance demand that all voices be heard, and we welcome your opposing comments,” the write. “However, the aforementioned diversity initiatives have already been established without significant dissent. Therefore, and once again, we are fully supportive of the diversity requirement for the A.A. degree.”

When I started attending classes at JCCC, classrooms, instructors and students had one thing in common -- they were all white.

In class, it usually fell to me to speak for non-white and non-heterosexual people when certain topics arose. I didn’t (and still don’t) mind becoming the instructor in those moments. It’s something “diverse” people accept and expect. We have speeches for good for any occasion that fit any time limit and can be easily adapted for any audience.

Yet, there’s also times when I step onto campus that I just want to be a student. Unfortunately, that will never happen until students, staff and faculty make the commitment to take on some of the responsibility of living in a diverse world.

One semester, I walked into a class relived to see a young black woman sitting in the front row. Within moments, the instructor used the N-word and no one -- including myself -- said a thing. The instructor did not direct it at the young woman or anyone else in the class. However, she offered no explanation or apology for how it might make affect us.

When class ended, the young woman walked out and did not return.

I regret not having the courage to stop the class and confront the instructor’s behavior.

As part of the effort to help the college help itself, I joined the diversity committee. Two years ago, I supported the exploration of adding a diversity requirement to the Associates’ of Arts degree. I also support an effort for mandatory diversity training for all employees. I support the appointment of Carmaletta Williams and the creation of a multicultural center.

And as a watchdog of this government, I spotlight its failures and its successes. Despite the growls of a few on campus, this diversity effort will succeed -- it must.