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UT hosts series of discussions on Diversity

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent


The University of Toledo hosted the second in a series of campus and community conversations regarding diversity Monday evening, Feb. 1, 2016, at the Kent Branch library, 3101 Collingwood Blvd.


The university is in the midst of putting together a diversity plan, hoping to engage students, staff, faculty, and the public in a focused dialogue about their experiences and perceptions about minority, cultural, and other differences on campus. The feedback received will serve as the backbone of a plan to improve diversity, inclusiveness, and equal access at UT.


Part of that plan will include rebuilding retention and completion efforts to help Latino students succeed. The series of public meetings comes six months after local Latino leaders met directly with UT President Sharon Gaber, who has stated her commitment to address diversity issues.


Such existing student supports directly aimed at Latino students were summarily dismantled under a previous administration, according to members of the Latino Alliance of Northwest Ohio. In fact, many Latino administrators who worked in such capacities were moved to other university positions. So they’d like to see the current president either restore those direct supports or find a positive way to promote student success beyond the Latino UT alumni affiliate that alliance members helped to establish to directly mentor students.

Dr. Willie L. McKether, special assistant to the president for diversity, hosted the meeting and told the crowd the purpose was to hear from them on “how we’re doing with diversity at the University of Toledo.” His job is to craft “the university’s first strategic diversity plan,” which is expected to be complete by April or May. UT’s president did not partake.


Dr. Willie L. McKether

Paula Hicks-Hudson

About 65 people attending the meeting—most of them local African-American leaders, including Toledo mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and Toledo city council members Larry Sykes, Tyrone Riley, mayor’s executive assistant Alan Bannister, and Linda Alvarado-Arce (Exec. Director of Toledo’s Board of Community Relations).


About a dozen Latino leaders also attended, including two who met with Dr. Gaber: UT alumnus Mark Urrutia and Guisselle Mendoza, Adelante, Inc. executive director. Other leaders in attendance included: Washington Local Schools board member Lisa Canales, business owners Gary Johnson and Hernán Vásquez, educators José Rosales and David Ibarra, Adelante’s Meyling Ruiz, and Rico of La Prensa.


One audience member asked if UT is trying to recruit enough Latinos as students to reflect the changing demographics of the U.S., as the country’s fastest-growing population—and whether the university is actively doing anything to retain those students after they’re recruited.


The moderator stated Latinos comprise four percent of UT’s current student population. But he was unable to answer whether Latinos are part of a conscious university effort to recruit and retain a diverse student body. Dr. McKether, though, promised to report the question back to UT leaders as part of its strategic planning process.


Others in the audience openly questioned whether tenured faculty and senior staff members reflect the diverse community-at-large, which received a negative response from Dr. McKether.


Johnson pointed to “an interdependence between the university and the community,” while others brought up changing demographics in Toledo and the need for the university to reflect the diversity of the greater community.


Dr. McKether spoke of moral and social reasons to promote diversity at UT, but members of the audience also talked about a “business case” for diversity, so students are better prepared to enter the global marketplace, as well as contribute to their local communities under the umbrella of “think globally, act locally.”


“I think of the opportunity the university has to offer a global experience in a local setting,” said Johnson. “The more different faces that they can provide on the local campus the easier it is to provide that global experience. The more diversity you have in the community, the more diversity you have on campus, the better it is for business.”


“Because the kids that are there learning want to see people like them. When you have a diverse university and they see other people like them doing other types of jobs, it’s easier for them to have a better understanding of diversity and embrace it,” Johnson added.


“If we accept that the university is a diverse institution, the question then becomes are we doing a good enough job at diversity?” asked Dr. McKether, as he tried to get the audience to talk about the areas of inclusion and equity.


One glaring area where UT lacks diversity is on its board of trustees. There is no Latino representation on the university’s board at present—and it’s been a number of years since the last Latino leader was appointed.


Dr. McKether described the university’s senior administration as “predominantly white and male.”


“You could say that it lacks diversity,” he said.


Ms. Mendoza pointed to the university’s lack of preparedness to handle students who may be of undocumented immigrant status. She suggested training for front office staff to be able to handle issues that come up during student registration and related paperwork.


Dr. McKether tried to convince a skeptical audience that changes will be made by the university’s president, who has now been in charge for six months. He promised a diversity plan will have measurable to hold everyone accountable.


“She’s saying to her senior staff: these are things you will do or you may not be here,” he said. “I’ve never heard that since I’ve been there.”


“The University needs to be sure all voices are heard, and these sessions are essential to our strategic diversity plan,” Dr. Gaber said in a prepared statement. “We need to incorporate the feedback we receive into our policies, procedures and initiatives, as well as ensure that UT is an inclusive, welcoming and supportive environment for all stakeholders, from faculty and staff to students and the community we’re grateful to serve.”


Dr. McKether even told the group his professional reputation is on the line, as he holds meetings with campus and the community—but promised to be an advocate for improvements in diversity, especially where student achievement is concerned.


“That’s what I’ve been arguing for the last five or six years. I’ve been saying there’s an achievement gap,” he said. “If you look at the achievement gap between Latinos and black males and females with everybody else, there’s a big gap. If nobody’s addressing that, that’s a problem. That’s not being inclusive. If you’re arguing it on the outside and I’m arguing the same thing on the inside, that’s progress—because we recognize the need for everyone to achieve, not just one demographic.”


A final “conversation on diversity” will be held with campus staff Thursday, Feb.4, noon to 2 p.m. on the UT Health Science campus.




Copyright © 1989 to 2015 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/02/16 19:14:03 -0800.




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