Diverse opinions on the need for representation
Within these last few months, America has reached a peak of conflict and division.
Between mounting racial tensions with police, widespread women’s rights protests and the renewed desperation of the international refugee crisis, things have changed. Even something as nonthreatening as Martin Luther King Jr. Day shines a revealing light onto one of the most pressing issues of our time: diversity.
College Factual, a website that matches students with the right university, places MNU’s ethnic, racial and gender diversity at about average. Female students make up just under 60% of the student body, however, women only make up a little over 40% of the faculty. Most of the staff is made up of non-immigrant Caucasians, while the same can only be said of 60% of the student body. Even one of MidAmerica’s most prominent programs, that of Christian ministry and formation, highlights the difference between the teachers and students, as the staff is made up entirely of white males.
Students at MNU have trouble agreeing on how to handle this issue – or if it even needs to be handled at all. One of MidAmerica’s most prominent ministry students, Div Tosingilo, concedes that MNU could be doing better.
“We might not have as many minority professors as we’d like,” Tosingilo said. “But there’s talk of improving that.”
Some students, such as biology major Dacia Harris, president of MNU’s student diversity council, see MNU’s actions in a positive light.
“I think we do a good job at MidAmerica,” Harris said in regards to the school’s representation of minority students.
She asserted that the council was doing its best to represent students in the areas that needed it most.
“I know that with the diversity council, we are doing certain events where we just have fun and celebrate everyone,” Harris said.
Others disagree, believing that the existence of a diversity council in itself creates division, not cooperation among its students. Returning ministry student and military veteran John Stubblefield had some doubts about the work being done on campus.
“I get that in the past, and even sometimes now, minorities are looked down upon,” Stubblefield said. “But, at the same time, you don’t correct that by exalting them above everyone else.”
Among the student body, there is no doubt that diversity is seen as a difficult topic to find common ground on. However, Victoria Haynes, the coordinator of Diversity & Cultural Competency, and a chair of the Diversity Advisory Council, said that she expects good things from MidAmerica.
“I think a part of being a great institution and what I love about MNU is that we are authentic,” Haynes said. “And that if we find a need, or if we find that something isn’t done the best way that we can, we can work on solutions together, on ways to improve that.”
Haynes also discussed the difference of representation between the student body and the faculty.
“I feel that we are doing the best we can with our staff,” Haynes said. “The issue that you run into trying to make your staff representative of – one, society and two, the population you are serving of students – is a shortage of qualified minority staff.”
Haynes continued, explaining that education today is more diverse than ever before. Minority groups that have previously been unable to become educated because of prejudice will be qualified for these positions in future generations.
But what does that mean for now? Many students are unable to find professors that can identify with their cultural background.
Rebeca Chow, assistant professor of play therapy with experience on the influence of multicultural backgrounds, commented on the nature of diversity itself.
“The challenge with diversity is that diversity is so specific.” She explained further, regarding the diversity among MNU’s staff and its complexity.
“[People] see culture and diversity as ethnic background and cultural background,” Chow said. “I believe diversity and culture are more expanded. I see diversity and culture as different spiritual beliefs, I see it as different financial backgrounds, I see it as even the intricacies of different family combinations.”
Despite differing views on the topic of diversity and how MNU faces these challenges as a whole, Tosingilo, Stubblefield and Chow agreed that increasing awareness of each other’s diverse differences is an important step to make.
“Just the awareness is a step in the right direction,” Tosingilo said. “And I think that’s a fair point to give MNU – that if you’re aware of it, and trying to do something towards it… to me, that’s a step in the right direction.”.
Stubblefield echoed Tosinglio’s sentiment.
“I love the way MNU’s trying to push diversity and do different things, instead of just being dominated by our culture, and doing things the way they have been done,” Stubblefield said.
Chow focused her comments on acceptance, highlighting the importance of understanding.
“I think being aware of the challenges that you have and being genuine about accepting, ‘You know what, I know about this community, and this is how I reflect that community,’” Chow said. “It’s more important than just saying ‘Oh! We’re diverse! We diversify here,’ or ‘We accept all cultures.’”
Dana Palmer- More by this author
Dana Palmer is a student at MidAmerica Nazarene University and a reporter for The Trailblazer.