It’s no surprise that Seton Hill University (SHU) lacks diversity. In the middle of western PA, the Catholic institution draws in many local students. Statistically, the surrounding area is made up of mostly older Caucasian families.
This does not mean the university does not draw other types of students, or that it does not strive for diversity. The International Student Services Office serves students from Brazil to the Virgin Islands, India to Serbia. Qualifying undergraduate internationals may receive between $8,000 and $20,000 in financial aid.
But what of the diverse Americans?
We do have minority scholarships and affirmative action. Many student-athletes are also offered compensations. Still, not all of us are athletes and not all should be.
On campus, our student outreach is floundering. While any student can start a club like Black Student Union, it is up to the students to maintain it. In recent years, the focus on ethnic clubs has waned, many of them folding when student interest decreased.
We’re students. We’re busy. I get that. We should still be doing something. Be meeting with our peers, exchanging cultures and combating racism with community.
Of my four years on campus, I have only seen the NAACP chapter at SHU hold one large event. That’s great, but we need more. We need student unions to support each group of students, not just one. We need Days of Dialogue, where the “participants speak their own minds, while implicitly acknowledging that their assumptions could be wrong and that other people may legitimately hold differing opinions,” according to their website which works with campuses across the country.
Our Martin Luther King Jr. Day presentation needs to diversify. Last year, the demonstration put on by the theatre members was lacking. While I do admire their work at SHU Performing Arts Center, the visual performance was hardly distinguishable as a work promoting diversity. There were few members of color, and much of the student body watching did not see how beating your significant other reflected diversity.
Students interested in starting a club (with funding) or adding culture to our campus should contact the vice president of mission and student life, Sister Lois Sculco.
However, my rant does not fall on all students’ shoulders. Where are our professionals of color at the institution? Where are our role models?
I saw a black professor for the first time last month and immediately wanted to take a class with him. Never mind that he taught business. It was then I realized, while I had seen some colored foreign language professors and non-teaching colored professionals, I had not really seen or taken a class with any person of color. I’ve been at SHU for four years.
This is upsetting, obviously.
President JoAnne Boyle said the issue is “identified in our strategic planning to be more aggressive in finding and recruiting faculty of color. We are not nearly as successful as we’d like to be.”
According to Boyle, diverse faculty has been interviewed on how to recruit more professionals. Part of the reason people don’t come is because SHU doesn’t have compensation packages that can always compete with public institutions.
“In a few instances we have way upped our packages, but in those instances the person didn’t stay anyway,” said Boyle.
She described their reason for leaving as the Greensburg community, “older European.” The professor’s family cannot find a community and while Pittsburgh has more diversity it is a harder commute and still not as diverse.
“We totally get it as an institution that we do not have enough representation, on our faculty especially. It is a challenge that we are aware of,” said Boyle.
At the moment, the institution is looking into a national diversity fair held in Atlanta that doubles as a recruiting fair. They hope to send a team down to the next fair. The hiring search committees also have a representative of affirmative action, and they advertise in areas they know that people would be looking.
Other steps to increase understanding and diversity on campus include faculty training. Each faculty member must take National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) training to stop prejudice and stereotypes in racism, sexism, classism and general discrimination. The NCAA also has training for the athletic staff because there tends to be more diversity. There are also surveys given to the participants to see how awareness and behaviors have changed.
I suggest frequently surveying the changing student body to better find out their needs for diversity and meet them.