Administration addresses student diversity concerns
THE SANTA CLARA
February 4, 2016
It was a veritable who’s who of campus leadership Tuesday evening, as people filed into the Music and Dance Recital Hall for the Winter quarter Unity 4 update.
Fr. Michael Engh, S.J. and Aaron Poor exchanged a presidential “fist bump” while administrators, professors, staff members and students mingled and chatted.
Senior Alana Hinkston and junior Desiree Fletcher, members of the Unity 4 movement, took the stage to explain that the forum was an opportunity for the university administration to update the community about the progress the school is making on issues of inclusion.
Dennis Jacobs, provost and vice president for academic affairs, announced that the Ethnic Studies and Women and Gender Studies programs were slated to become standalone majors in the near future, in response to demands made in the original May 2015 Unity 4 document.
“The faculty in both programs have made compelling arguments for how they are enhancing the major to the point where it deserves to be labeled as a standalone major,” he said.
Until this proposal passes, students wishing to major in either Women and Gender or Ethnic Studies need to also take a companion major.
According to Jacobs, the proposals have to be approved by the Academic Affairs Trustee Committee and will be followed by a vote of the full board of trustees late next week.
Although this announcement was met with a warm reception, Anna Sampaio, director and associate professor of ethnic studies, stood up to raise her concerns that this move was not far-reaching enough.
Ethnic Studies has been an area of study for 45 years at Santa Clara and the program has been asking to be both a standalone major and a department for the whole time, Sampaio said.
“(Becoming a department) is as, if not more, important than the standalone major,” she said. “The department signifies in many ways the status of the program as an academic unit in the college and in the university. It signifies the fact that we are in fact a full fledged member of the college and the university.”
The forum took a heated turn when an attendee noted that the Leavey School of Business has no full-time black faculty members.
Professor Sampaio echoed this concern. She said that there are several academic departments that have failed to “desegregate” and can be hostile environments to professors of color.
Aldo Billingslea, associate provost for diversity and inclusion, addressed this concern by explaining that the problem goes beyond Santa Clara.
He said that the Leavey School of Business is regarded as a prestigious institution, despite its lack of black professors, reflecting the absence of societal concern for this issue.
The university has found success in “cluster hiring,” bringing professors to campus in groups, and providing them with allies supportive of their identities.
At one particularly emotional moment, Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, assistant director of undergraduate admissions and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, rose to respond to a student question about Native Americans on campus.
Encouraging native students to reach out and connect, she shared that she has started a cultural group aimed at supporting those with native ancestry.
“Thank you all very much for the support we have received,” she said, fighting back tears. “We are here, I am here, whoever asked that question. Come find me.”
Fr. Michael Engh, S.J. took the opportunity to announce that he was commissioning a blue ribbon panel to investigate issues of diversity and inclusion.
The commission is to be composed of twelve individuals drawn from the neighboring community, alumni and the faculty. It will spend six to seven months compiling a report about the state of diversity at Santa Clara.
Mike Sexton, vice president for enrollment management, reported statistics on early admissions and decision applications. Addressing Unity 4’s demand to increase the number of undergraduate minorities, Sexton touted a 50 percent increase in the number of black students admitted either early action or decision. Sexton also said that there was a 26 percent increase in the number of black student applications overall.
However, some students pressed the issue of SAT scores, arguing that high scores on the standardized tests correlate with higher socioeconomic status, disadvantaging many students of color.
Sexton responded by saying that the admissions process goes far beyond the infamous SAT number ascribed by the College Board.
“That’s the reason we don’t have cutoff scores,” Sexton said. “There is no magic number…that guarantees you’re in or you’re out.”
Hoping to assuage fears of disadvantaging minorities, Sexton said that there are many factors that go into the consideration of a student beyond SAT scores, noting that students with near perfect SAT or ACT scores are often denied acceptance to the university because of factors like GPA and teacher recommendations.
Billingslea concluded the event by answering a question about the changes he would have liked to have seen if he were an undergraduate at Santa Clara.
“I would want to see more people like me,” he said. “I was a first generation college student. I’m a student who didn’t have that high SAT score…I knew that I was at a place where a lot of the messages I was receiving were telling me I didn’t belong. And that’s a headwind. It makes it harder.”
Contact Nicolas Sonnenburg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.