Behind the Numbers: Diversity Figures Don’t Add Up (Opinion)

(Marvin Peña/The Independent)

Now more than ever, diversity is an important part of our lives. Politicians, teachers and activists of all stripes push for the importance of diversity in politics, communities and schools. And for good reason; different perspectives create a more inclusive environment and foster sympathetic thinking.

Just a quick glance around us or a rapid online search about the topic shows how important diversity is to our communities, but what does it look like at Clark?

How Diverse is Clark?

According to the Department of Planning and Effectiveness, Clark had 11,329 students enrolled last Fall. Of those, 37 percent were students of color. But, a short walk around campus shows that these figures don’t reflect the reality of Clark’s classrooms.   

Shanda Diehl, associate vice president of Planning and Effectiveness, explained that student race and ethnicity is measured every quarter to give an accurate record of how Clark’s student body is composed.

So, if one third of Clark’s students are people of color, where are they?

Clark’s measurement system isn’t perfect. According to Diehl, these classifications are solely based on students’ responses when they register. Students who are white, but consider themselves Latinx, also fall into the student of color category, which contributes to the perceived lack of diversity on campus.

Julie Robertson, a research and continuous improvement professional in the same department, said that another reason students don’t see diversity on campus is because these statistics consider students from other programs. “These numbers also include non-degree seeking students or students who are enrolled in transitional studies,” Robertson said, “so, they can be enrolled in CAP classes, Adult Basic Education, GED, etc.”

Many of the students enrolled in these programs take classes in different buildings where most students never visit. According to the statistics from the department of Planning and Effectiveness, around 2,400 students are enrolled in programs that are taught in different places like the T-Building, across the street from the main campus, or Corporate and Continuing Education in downtown Vancouver.

There are 781 students just in the Transitional Studies Program who claim to be part of a different racial group other than white. According to data provided by Transitional Studies program coordinator Jessica Sanders, this represents 60.2 percent of students in the program.   

Being a Student of Color at Clark

Being a student is a constant struggle. Trying to juggle your personal life, job and academic load can be daunting for anyone, but international students and students of color often face unique challenges on top of the normal ones.

As an international student, I had the fortune to learn some of the English language in an exchange program before I enrolled in Clark, but even that wasn’t enough to make me feel confident in  participating fully in college life. It was a challenge just trying to figure out how the system works, what classes I should  take, how many credits I needed and where I was going to live.

Participating in class was a scary experience. I thought that if I participate people wouldn’t understand me because of my accent, so I didn’t interact as much as I wanted for at least two quarters.   

Transitional program manager Monica Wilson said that this country’s education system has never provided marginalized groups with as many opportunities as white students, and recognizing that is the best way to start improving the system. Wilson advocates for the equal opportunities for all and tries to reduce the disparities between underrepresented groups and their white counterparts.

“We need to listen to our students, recognize their problem and go to specifics,” Wilson said. “We can not fix their problems the way we think is best for them,” Wilson said. Even little changes could add up to benefit more students, she said.

Why Diversity Matters

In today’s world, boundaries between countries are disappearing. We’re seeing more people from different nationalities in educational institutions and the workplace. That’s beneficial for all of us.

Diehl said that Clark is committed to having a diverse population, and supports efforts to bring in students from all walks of life. “I think the quality of our education increases exponentially when we all come from different backgrounds and can convene in a classroom,” Diehl said.

Currently, a lot of Clark’s campus diversity comes from programs like Transitional Studies, which provide the community with a variety of opportunities. The program can help students earn a high school diploma, take the GED test, learn English, or gain skills to be college or work ready.

While Transitional Studies increases diversity figures at Clark, it’s important to remember that many people of color enrolled in these programs are here for the short term, and don’t have all of the same resources as regular students.

Jim Wilkins-Luton, dean of Basic Education, English, Communication and Humanities, oversees Transitional Studies, and recognizes that Clark is always trying to improve to better serve the community “I think we need to reject the idea of ‘color blind’ and recognize that we are different,” Wilkins-Luton said. “It is important to see each other and celebrate our differences.”

It is important to remember that college life is about learning and the exchanging of ideas, whether you agree with them or not. If we don’t take advantage of having a diverse community we are  missing the opportunity to broaden our understanding of the world. Let’s be aware of this and celebrate that differences make us better.

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