Written by: Justin Demaranville
Loretta Capeheart first set foot on Clark’s campus as the new Vice President of the Office of Equity and Diversity on June 5. With a doctorate in sociology from Texas Woman’s University, Capeheart said she was thrilled and astonished by how her background complemented what the college was looking for. Independent reporter Justin DeMaranville sat down with Capeheart to discuss her past experience in the field and future aspirations for Clark.
What first drove you to a career involving diversity and writing?
I grew up in South Texas in a heavily Mexican-American community. I’m Latina even though most people don’t recognize that. I grew up with that identity and that understanding of the world. I saw the differences in how I am treated compared to my cousins and how there is different opportunities based on irrelevant things like race. During my corporate career it became an extracurricular activity to write about these issues … Most of my research and writing and publications have been around the inequalities of the education system. I’ve written one book called “Social Justice: Theories, Issues, and Movements.”
Can you describe your previous position as a member of the Portland Police Bureau?
I worked on their Department of Justice settlement agreement, particularly the portion dealing with improving relationships between police and communities of color. I was also heavily involved with their diversity work and their racial equity plan. We also worked on the equity 101 training. Every police officer needed to have some equity training. We developed that, piloted that and got it delivered.
What will your role be in fulfilling Clark’s 2015-2020 Social Equity Plan?
What I’m looking to do this year is develop a power, privilege and inequity curriculum for the faculty and staff that will start with understanding the social construction of things like race, gender, sexuality, and how these things came to be … that they are not genetic or biological, but that they are socially constructed things. People can then grasp the more complex issues like race. Once people can understand that, they realize that we can take on these structures that we built.
How do you define equity?
Equity means … that everyone has what they need to succeed. If a student comes to Clark without English skills because they are an immigrant from the Ukraine, then we need more services for that student so that their access is equitable. Or a student that comes from a high school where the math curriculum isn’t appropriate to get the student where they need to start math here, that student then needs more support to get into the math class.
Do you and your colleagues have the power to address these issues?
I feel like we have the support of the community to do the work. I think that any vice-president on this campus would tell you that we need more resources to do that … The short term goal is to make some gains and then show how much further we can get. Who knows, maybe we’ll pull it off without more resources. We’ll work as hard as we can to get there with what we’ve got.
In your time here, how diverse do you think Clark is?
Here in our office we have so much diversity. I see it when students come in and they’re excited…One of the students was walking through Gaiser Hall, and was seeing all of our pride flags out and feeling then that he belonged here. He then came right up to meet everybody. The same thing happens for students of color, that they have someone who is able to connect with them right away or literally speak their language to connect them with the campus.
What effect does diversity have on campus life and learning?
Right now the faculty and staff do not match the diversity of the students, so we have a lot of work to do to get there. Coming out here I’ve come to recognize that it’s not just about the diversity itself, but about how people come to understand the world when they’re not in a diverse place. In the lack of diversity there is a real hesitation to talk about race and the realities of our history … We’re having increasing diversity [within the student body] on the Clark campus … When I see that increasing diversity here it gives me great hope that we’ll get there with the Social Equity Plan. I haven’t talked to a single person on this campus that I’m not convinced is 100% committed to these students.