Discussion addresses diversity

by Charles Gardner | 11/13/01 6:00am

Dartmouth must continue to expand diversity initiatives into all levels of campus life and must seek broad support in doing so, according to senior College officials and one student, who spoke at an informal discussion held last night at Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

The discussion, which was titled "Footsteps to Diversity" and led by Ozzie Harris, special assistant to the College President for Institutional Diversity and Equity, Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia and Jennai Williams '03, was intended to foster conversation among students on how best to promote diversity at the College.

Many attendees questioned the definition of the word "diversity" itself.

Williams, a former student member of the Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity -- which drafted a preliminary set of recommendations on diversity this summer -- said each student on the committee had his or her own definition of diversity.

"We know it's going to involve race, we know it's going to involve gender, [and] we know it's going to involve class and sexual orientation," Harris said, emphasizing the difficulty in pinning down a narrow and precise definition of such a general term.

According to Williams, the College should assume a greater role in promoting diversity, both through specific recommendations and by continuing to make diversity central to student life.

Diversity "needs to be incorporated into the fundamental structures of the community," Williams said, citing changes in the curriculum as one means of achieving this goal.

Sateia compared the process of implementing diversity with that of the introduction of computers to campus two decades ago in terms of its wide-ranging impact.

"We want to embrace diversity the way we embrace the computer," she said, stressing the need for students, faculty, and administration alike to welcome and support the changes.

Ozzie Harris said the Student Life Initiative had encountered difficulties when deciding how to approach the topic of diversity: "None of us could really agree with what should happen ... we had a lot of difficulty reaching consensus, especially on diversity issues."

Williams ventured possible funding to be given to professors to increase diversity in course offerings, emphasizing the need for the administration to play a more active role in such changes.

Harris called for "more money supporting programs ... that make these issues more pertinent and real," both within the Greek system and in the classroom.

In particular, he mentioned involving more administrative departments in promoting diversity, the future creation of a council on diversity, a new council to look into inter-group relations and further enhancement of the financial aid program.

Williams was confident that a strong foundation for future change was already in place.

This past summer, College President James Wright approved three major recommendations of the Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity report -- rewriting Dartmouth's mission statement, creating the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, and appointing Ozzie Harris to a full-time position dedicated to coordinating and implementing diversity initiatives.

Many students at the discussion brought up their own concerns, including how best to encourage students to mingle with others of different backgrounds, and whether to provide increased diversity and sensitivity training to faculty.

Others discussed personal interactions and the role students should play in fostering diversity.

"People do have to come and really want to take risks," Harris said of Dartmouth students. "There really needs to be a desire to make these things a part of everyday life."