Diversity Efforts Strong at WC

By Andrea Clarke
Elf Staff Writer

The Photography Club sponsored a Diversity Photo Shoot featuring Gus the Goose this November. From left to right: Sophomore Emily Hoyle, sophomore Ashley Carol-Fingerhut, Gus the Goose, senior Courtney Smith and sophomore Sam Bitzelberger.
- Photo courtesy of Photography Club

Although Washington College is not known for its cultural or racial diversity, there are many plans underway for its improvement. Part of this initiative not only comes from a campus awareness and desire for personal growth, but it also stems from a relatively new from several important state organizations.

According to the 2011 Maryland Independent College and University Associate (MICUA) report, “Legislation passed during the 2008 Session of the Maryland General Assembly requires each public institution of higher education to develop and implement programs of cultural diversity and submit annual reports to its governing body.”

As a result, WC and other state-aided independent institutions are required by law to submit a yearly report to MICUA about its diversity programs and some of the methods implemented to improve their impact on campus.

Students, faculty, and certain administrators from each institution were posed several questions. Some general questions WC had to answer included, “Describe how the institution assesses its performance in promoting cultural diversity,” and “What program would you like to implement to enhance cultural diversity if resources were available?”

After these answers are gathered, the reports are consolidated by MICUA and sent to Maryland Higher Learning Commission (MHEC) which then gives a condensed summary to the Maryland General Assembly as to how these institutions are upholding the diversity expectations held by the “2009 Maryland State Plan for Postsecondary Education.”

Senior Stephan Jordan, a Student Commissioner for MHEC, said, “MHEC is continuously working to try and meet the goals the state set for Higher Education in 2009. The main goals set in the plan were affordability, access, and equality. The plans outline the state’s vision for a Higher Education system in which Marylanders can attend institutions that operate in the best interest of students.”

The Maryland State Plan for Postsecondary Education holds that “[a] culturally competent institution…engages in a set of measurable activities designed to assist everyone at the institution in learning about and responding effectively to all the people it serves.”

The federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) also assists in supporting this goal and has recently released its findings: 29 percent of undergraduate students at MICUA institutions are of color, the Hispanic student population has seen a 150 percent enrollment increase, African-American student presence has grown by 35 percent, and 19 percent of MICUA full-time faculty are minorities. One of the most encouraging findings is that “[h]alf of the MICUA member institutions have eliminated the graduation gap between underrepresented minority students and the general population.”

In its annual report, WC reiterated its aspiration “to create a vibrant community” and “a diversity committee . . . to provide leadership and guidance on campus programs and policies.”

One program that contributes to this community is Cleopatra’s Sisters, an “organization for women of different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds,” according to the club’s website.

Its president, sophomore Avanti Gabourel, said that the ideal WC has “more of every color and ethnicity roaming the campus, no racism or discrimination of any sort, and seeing everyone with at least one friend that is a different race than themselves. It would also be great to have a black sorority or fraternity.”

Gabourel is scheduled to meet with WC President Mitchell Reiss “to discuss with him the issues at hand regarding the lack of diversity and culture on campus along with many other suggestions to improve our school.”

Although the sisters cannot influence College admissions, Gabourel said that “we can [strive] to maintain a positive image, embrace all cultures whether they are present or not in the student population, and reach out into the community to do any service possible that benefits people of all heritages.” In doing this they hope to attract a more diverse pool of applicants.

Fellow sophomore and Cleo’s member Shaneta Ford sums up their mission as “sister striving for perfection, unity, and love in our community.”

The Cleos are not alone in their mission. In the MICUA report, it states that “Washington College hosted the second annual Reconciliation Ceremony with the city of Chestertown. The ceremony brings together black and white citizens of the town to talk about past injustices and discuss ways to transcend them in living together in today’s world.”

WC also hopes to recruit more diverse students by not requiring SAT or ACT scores on the enrollment application. WC joins institutions such as Loyola University Maryland, McDaniel College, and St. John’s College in implementing this decision as well as benefitting from its positive results.

The report also adds that “Washington College designates financial aid funds for students from traditionally underrepresented populations. These funds are awarded on the basis of demonstrated need to qualified applicants.”

When the new freshman class arrives at orientation, “[they] attend a program called Making the Transition that incorporates cultural diversity through skits performed by peer mentors. Following the skits, faculty and peer mentors lead discussions on the diversity issues addressed in the skits.”

Both peer mentors and resident assistants are trained to cultivate and preserve diversity on campus through their work.

To read the 2011 Maryland Independent College and University Associate
cultural diversity report or learn more about it, visit http:/www.micua.org/Publications-Reports/ and click on “Cultural Diversity Report 2011.”

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