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November 28, 2005

Diversity forums draw broad participation from campus community

By Jennifer McNulty

A free-ranging discussion of diversity on campus touched on issues from the stratospheric cost of living and the needs of the "hidden disabled" to academic curriculum and the concentration of Latino staff in low-level food, custodial, and groundskeeping jobs.

Photo: Gina DentGina Dent, associate professor of feminist studies, facilitated the interactive three-hour session, which included a presentation of current data about the campus.
Photo: Jennifer McNulty

Far broader than a discussion of race and gender diversity, the discussion took place November 18 during the fourth of five public forums sponsored by the Academic Senate's Committee on Affirmative Action and Diversity (CAAD)

In an effort to assess the diversity climate on campus, CAAD designed the gatherings to be information-sharing events that will be followed next quarter by a web-based survey questionnaire. The committee will present its findings in the spring.

Gina Dent, associate professor of feminist studies, facilitated the interactive three-hour session, which included a presentation of current data about the campus. The session, which was recorded for use in compiling the final report, was an opportunity for students, staff, and faculty to offer input, ask questions, express opinions, and help shape the committee's work. About 40 people attended.

"It's easy to treat the language of diversity cynically, to say it's the same as affirmative action but we're just calling it something different," said Dent, who noted that the campus remains legally bound to use affirmative action to comply with federal standards and laws, even in the wake of Proposition 209.

"Or, we could build a more substantive agenda," she said, opening the door to a sweeping discussion of the campus climate.

UCSC is widely perceived by outsiders as having few of the conventional "diversity issues," but Dent called it a "majority-white campus, consistently among the whitest campuses in the UC system, in terms of student population."

Among undergraduates, 51 percent are European American, 18 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander, 14 percent are Hispanic, 11 percent declined to state, 3 percent are African American, 2 percent are international, and 1 percent are American Indian.

Graduate students are 49 percent European American, 16 percent declined to state, 16 percent are international, 9 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 8 percent Hispanic, 1 percent African American, and 1 percent American Indian.

Campuswide data show undergraduate attrition after three years averages about 30 percent, with higher rates among African American and American Indian students. Campuswide, about 64 percent of students graduate after six years, but the rates are much lower among certain groups, including African American (50 percent), Native American (52 percent), and Mexican American (58 percent). Among Latinos, Filipinos, and Asians, 62 percent graduate after six years.

Several members of the audience said students of color and members of the gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and intersex community have told them they feel uncomfortable and unwelcome at UCSC, and students refer to some colleges as "racist." Dent said some students spoke during forums about their reluctance to walk through certain colleges, while others changed their major because they prefer the environment at some colleges.

Examples of student discontent abound, added Dent: "Undergraduate students demand ethnic studies departments year after year, while faculty consistently say they don't want to create those departments. What can be done creatively so that both constituencies can have what they want?"

Among staff, race and gender diversity remain challenges, she said.

"Staff diversity is considered the biggest problem by the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EEO/AA)," said Dent.

Seventy percent of staff are white, 20 percent are Latino, 5 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander, 3 percent are African American, 1 percent are American Indian, and 1 percent are unknown, according to campus records.

Forty-one percent of staff are white women, 28 percent are white men, 16 percent are women of color, 14 percent are men of color, and 1 percent are unknown.

Fifty-two percent of Latinos are concentrated in lower-level food, custodial, and grounds jobs, although only 14 percent of job titles on campus are in those categories.

Managers expressed distress that hiring policies effectively discourage the promotion of current staff. One manager described the "wealth of talent in lower-level positions where there is a lot of diversity," but complained about the lack of structure to help people "travel up."

Analysis of faculty data could be enhanced, said Dent.

"Academic HR knows a lot about us as faculty, but more could be generated from the information that's been gathered," she said, citing as one example that promotions and age are not in a format that can be analyzed.

Like staff, ladder-rank faculty are 73 percent white, with 13 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 7 percent Latino, 3 percent African American, and 1 percent American Indian. Fifty percent are white men, 24 percent are white women, 12 percent are men of color, 11 percent are women of color, and 3 percent are of unknown ethnicity.

By division, the "most extreme gender and ethnic diversity problems in terms of seniority" among faculty are in the Physical and Biological Sciences and Social Sciences--precisely where the bulk of near-term future hires will take place, said Dent. "We could exacerbate that, or we could change it," she said.

Top faculty positions are dominated by white men, while the greatest number of women of color are at the assistant professor level, said Dent. Among top professors systemwide, there appears to be a "barrier step" between Step 5 and Step 6, the top of the scale, she said. "The burden of such a strenuous review results in many faculty choosing to remain at Step 5," said Dent.

The Academic Personnel Manual guidelines for personnel actions were recently revised to encourage faculty to engage in "diversity work," such as mentoring and diversity-oriented research, noted Dent.

Conceding that data are incomplete and sometimes problematic, Dent encouraged discussion of the campus culture. "Data is never going to capture everything we want to know. That's why this is an ethnographic study," she said. "Has the culture changed to accommodate every kind of person present equally?"

A 19-year employee of the campus expressed the frustration of many when she said she has watched the revolving door go around as people from diverse backgrounds work for about two years and leave. "There's something about the climate here that we need to tease apart," she said, issuing a plea for programs that will support a diverse campus community.

Sounding an encouraging note, Dent acknowledged that cultural changes are complicated, but she said she thinks Santa Cruz is well-positioned to succeed because of the campus's focus on interdisciplinary work, in all its forms.


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