Last Friday, SA’s Diversity and Multiculturalism department held its first ever town hall, called State of the TUnion. This event was held in concert with administration to discuss the state of inclusion and programs for domestic multiculturalism and diversity on campus.
Administrators Earl Johnson, Yolanda Taylor, Alyson Garrison and Jackie Caldwell were part of the panel. Earl Johnson is the Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Services and Jackie Caldwell is the Vice President for Diversity and Engagement and the Director of the Presidential Scholars Program. Yolanda Taylor is the associate vice president for Enrollment and Student Affairs and Alyson Garrison is head of Greek life in the Office of Student Affairs.
Johnson started off the discussion. After working at TU for 28 years and spending time here as an undergrad, Johnson noted the University’s success thus far regarding domestic diversity, saying “When I was a student at the University of Tulsa, you could literally count the number of students of color on one hand who were not athletes.” He did acknowledge there was work to be done, however. Some of the successes he pointed to were the Multicultural Resource Center, which is located in Hardesty Hall, which offers students and groups a place to meet and work in. As Vice President for Enrollment and Services, he said his office is making it a priority to recruit “students of color so we can diversify our community beyond our international students.” This year’s freshman class had one of the highest composition of domestic students of color, 22 percent.
Administration at all levels, according to Caldwell, is concerned not only about diversity as a numbers game, but “making sure that the people we bring here feel welcomed, very much a part of the university, and engaged.” Her office was created to coordinate different offices and initiatives that deal with diversity to improve communication and creativity.
Part of this attempt to welcome students led to the creation of a Diversity Advisory Council. The council is staffed by students, faculty, department chairs and others. The council is split into fifteen subcommittees that reviews topics like faculty and student recruitment and diversity branding. Each committee is looking at factors, surveying the university and writing a report based on their topic, which will be consolidated into a “Diversity Action Plan” for the University.
“We’re doing fine in aggregate numbers, but sometimes, when you drill down into particular areas, we can see where we might need to do a lot more work” Caldwell said. Based on her own experiences in college, Caldwell recognized the need for faculty recruitment to recruit students, saying, “when I stepped off the greyhound bus, I really wanted to see some people who looked like me….it makes a difference to create that sense of community as well as making sure that our campus is reflecting society as large.”
Taylor said that “ensuring this is a campus that every student can feel comfortable, where it’s a good fit, where it’s a safe zone where we have an opportunity to have conversations on campus we wouldn’t have elsewhere because we know it’s a safe place” was important to the University and administration.
Garrison is also the chairperson of the Advocacy Alliance, the interdisciplinary and interdepartmental organization which seeks to “prevent and intervene in interpersonal violence here on campus.” The Alliance accomplishes these goals by educating students about consent, rape culture and other issues.
Garrison’s main focus in her introduction was Greek life. There are 12 social Greek life organizations on campus; six Panhellenic Conference sororities and five fraternities and one National Panhellenic Council organization. The National Panhellenic Council represents historically black fraternities, although they still accept membership from all races and ethnicities. In 2014, the university had four organizations from the NPHC, with five students total in the organizations. Since then, those students graduated, until spring of 2015, the university had one NPHC with one member. As the numbers have dwindled, an NPHC advisory council, staffed with alumni, has been trying to grow these organizations. Without these alumni, no one would know about these organizations, Garrison said.
After each panelist introduced him or herself, the audience was encouraged to vote on several pre-written questions for the panelists to answer. The first question dealt with the University’s possible response to large student protests.
Johnson said the university encouraged free discourse, recalling the fireside chat. “Just because the student aren’t demonstrating [for social justice causes], that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in those issues,” he said, noting the fireside chats were well-attended, and said the administration would be supportive of such demonstrations. Caldwell also expressed that the University would try to find ways to be supportive of students.
A student pointed to a recent example of political demonstration — when Keanu Hill, a football players knelt during the national anthem in early September. The campus’s response to that incident, she felt, was supportive of his free speech but condemned the action at the same time. Johnson agreed that “as an institution, we have to be more accepting of free speech and free inquiry of that nature and be willing to support it and embrace it.”
The next question dealt with recruitment of students of different economic classes, LGBTQ+ students, and disabled students. Being a member of the National Association for College Admission counseling has allowed the university some insight into what LGBTQ+ students and others might want from TU. “When we identify students in the recruitment process who have self-identified,” Johnson said, “we have the opportunity to reach out to them and share with them what the university is doing” to support those students. He admitted this change is “not as robust and fast-paced as we would like it, but we are off to a very good start.”
Someone then asked why SA had to fund Advocacy Alliance and not TU. An SA member said the organization had discussions with Advocacy Alliance and felt this was a good use of student funds, as the organization focuses on student-to-student conversations. Taylor said in previous years the Office of Student Affairs has provided money to Advocacy Alliance, but that they appreciated partnering with SA to help fund the organization.
Joe Lee, future president of the Korean Student Organization, asked what international student organizations and Greek life were doing to work together. Events that Greek life puts on are not well attended by international students, due to them not being aware of the events and feeling uncomfortable attending, among other reasons. Similarly, events by international student organizations are not often attended by students from Greek life. He added that “people like to go in groups, it’s hard for them to be independent” and said this might be why it’s hard for an Asian-Americans, or other students, on campus to attend a wider range of events.
Another Asian-American student said sometimes “there’s this idea that you cannot be both Asian and American. You have to choose,” which applied to society at large. “Sometimes there’s this feeling of sacrifice,” the student continued because there was pressure to pick only one identity. “I have personally felt that there’s an underrepresentation of Asian-Americans on campus,” she concluded, “and the lack of an Asian-American student association is an example of that.”
Caldwell was interested in students’ thoughts on how to fix these issues. Lee said that if organizations found common ground, they could hold events that featured the best of both worlds. “If multiculturalism was more established between more organizations, the more commonalities there would be,” on student said. Saswat Das, an Indian-American student, commented that while the Indian Association is huge, most of its members are international students. “For domestic Indian students, it’s hard to find people that you can connect with,” he said, and noted that at the University of Arkansas, there’s a larger domestic Indian student community, which is welcoming. Because this issue isn’t addressed a lot, the students felt it would be difficult to find and create an Asian-American student association, compounded by the fact many might not fully identify as Asian-American.
TU Student Veteran Association sent along a statement, as none of their officers could attend, to explain the diversity of their organization in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability.
While the organization approved of the attempts the University has made to partner with veterans, such as the establishment of a TU Veteran’s House, they felt that “CSAS customer service has been lacking, and veterans aren’t always comfortable going there.”
“Veterans are still underserved and no one in administration is looking into this,” the representative said, but wasn’t able to finish discussing the list of issues because of time constraints.
Being a veteran, with the added pressures of re-assimilating to civilian life and potential disabilities relating to their service, can be difficult. Johnson said he’d be interested in “continuing the discourse” in how to improve relations with veterans. As one of the subcommittees on the Diversity Advisory council is working on disability inclusion, Cadwell said that CSAS would be included in the discussion.
Women’s and Gender Studies mentioned their upcoming plans, which are focused around this year’s theme of gender and food. One complaint was that “seating in classes are not accommodating to different bodies.” The Study Abroad office wanted to ensure students know that regardless of their major, disability, financial need or other identity, study abroad experiences were possible and that the office would work with each student.
Speaking about the LGBTQ+ community, one SA member wanted to recognize that “Tulsa is somewhat of a gem in our state, and in our region. A lot of LGBTQ students within this region come to this university because they feel like it’s a safe place, or one of the safest options in the region.” SA is helping to sponsor and promote a Pride month for the month of November with PRIDE. “We’re sure there’s gonna be some backlash on campus, so we’d really love some administration support to make this a great month for LGBTQ students,” the student continued.
Another student, a member of both the LGBTQ+ community and Greek life, noted there “is a lack of visibility in all areas of campus.” Reflecting back on her freshman years, the student emphasized that “meeting people and seeing people being visible on campus was so important,” and hoped that this month would lead to more visibility for LGBTQ students.
Garrison, speaking on behalf of Greek life, said that “for international students, it’s hard to talk about Greek life when you’re trying to find your dorm, or target. It’s so Americanized we don’t often think about internationals. From what I can tell, we have the most international students currently in fraternities, across the board. I do think, in sororities, we struggle.”
“Why are the men doing it and the women aren’t?” she asked, hoping for someone to explain why.
As an example, one sorority girl did admit that when her sorority reaches out to organizations to invite to their planned events, no international student organization is on that list. “We do philanthropy dinners, and you can sign up by house, or sign up by ‘other’,” was another example which could make non-Greek life students feel unwelcome.
“Part of it, especially at the beginning could be the differences in the recruitment process between men and women,” one sorority member believed. As an American, she was more prepared for the process of sorority recruitment, which she described as more formal and having stricter requirements than the fraternity recruitment. Another issue, Garrison said, was that sororities and fraternities did their recruitment before NPHC organizations did theirs, as NPHC organizations want students to have time in college before deciding to join, but a person cannot join both an NPHC and a social sorority or a fraternity. Discussion between the organizations could lead to a better timeline of recruitment.
Because recruitment is so soon after school begins, some international students may also still be acclimating to living in the US and not able to join a sorority or fraternity right away, although later they might realize interest. Those representing Greek life were interested in creating a permanent council between Greek life, international students and domestic students to begin having these conversations.
The last issue brought up surrounded the Multicultural Resource Center. Students expressed confusion and a lack of knowledge about the Center. The Center is currently understaffed, which has made it difficult for it to be as successful as administration would like it to be. Access after 5 p.m. to the Center was brought up as a possible solution to increase its accessibility to student groups.
Caldwell invited the idea of the creation of a student council to discuss these issues with the administration, which has existed in the past but has waxed and waned as student interest and availability changes. Currently, they use SA as their “ears on the ground” when planning events and learning of problems and possible solutions. SA and the administration said that they were both working on making organizations and events more visible and supported.
This Monday, October 10, a fireside chat will be held to discuss Columbus Day. Next Friday there will be an end of Hispanic Month celebration. November will be PRIDE month on campus.