Kiera Blake – Staff Writer –
Located in the city of New Haven, Southern lays claim to being “a vibrant, culturally rich and ethnically diverse environment,” encouraging students and faculty to learn about and embrace the range of different cultures, beliefs and lifestyles of one another. Freshman pre-med biology major Jasper Larioza said that upon coming to the school, he felt that it is indeed a diverse campus.
“I’ve learned so much about other cultures [here],” Larioza said. “The amount of different cultures and races here and programs that enrich others on those cultures [is very good].”
Hailing from Baguio City in the Philippines, Larioza has been in the United States for approximately two and a half years. The Philippines, according to Larioza, are mainly homogenous in population where most of the things the natives learn about other cultures come from the media, “which is, for the most part, negative.” Upon coming to the United States and enrolling at SCSU however, Larioza said most of what he learned from the media about other cultures outside of his own Filipino roots have long since been dispelled.
Michelle Williams, a junior majoring in liberal studies, also feels that the level of diversity is vast, be it pertaining to race, ethnicity, or gender identity.
“When I came here, I went to [clubs on campus, where] I made a lot of new friends and I got to learn about the trans* community,” Williams said. “And [my friend] Anna was not only my first roommate but she was also the first white friend I really had; I was the first black friend she ever had.”
The university’s Office of Institutional Research compiled statistics regarding the percentages of students in attendance throughout the year 2012. Of the approximately 11,167 students attending this year, about 3,115 of them are considered racial or ethnic minorities, including blacks or African-Americans, American Indians or Alaskan Natives, Asians, Hispanic members of any race, Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, and students who are mixed with two or more races. Whites make up about 65.5 percent of the student body—one of many statistics that, according to administrator Dian Brown-Albert, often catches students off-guard.
“People are shocked when I show them the numbers and percentages of Southern’s races and ethnicities at our programs,” Brown-Albert said. “Strides have been made, but we’ve still got a-long-ways to go.”
Brown-Albert, who is of West Indian background, works as the advisor for the West Indian Society and is a coordinator working as part of the university’s Multicultural Center. Regarding the university’s own take on diversity as a whole, she along with women’s studies instructor professor Yi-Chun Tricia Lin said they both feel like the campus “still has a long way to go.”
“I think that [diversity is] more of an idea than a practice here,” Lin said. “[Coming from] the Borough of Manhattan Community College and from CUNY, compared to CUNY, I looked around at Southern when I came here and said, ‘You’re kidding me; you call this diversity?’”
Being a 17th generation Taiwanese-American, Lin said she is very passionate in her fight for equity among various communities, including being part of the Latino and Native American Students Advancement Committee, holding the position of director of the women’s studies program, and being elected the new president of the National Women’s Studies Association earlier this semester. While pondering the state of equity and diversity at Southern, Lin reminds her peers of her own belief concerning assumptions about her racial background: the way she looks does not define her politics.
“The majority of the people [in society] don’t want to talk about [race]—they talk about ‘Let’s not rock the boat; let’s keep the status quo,’” Lin said. “We need to diversify our thinking.”
Recounting his experience at the campus event “La Noche de Gala,” a night of Latin culture and celebration, Larioza said he encourages other people to learn about other cultures like himself.
“It educated them to know more of other peoples’ cultures, and it can help them to be more non-discriminatory and non-judgmental about things,” Larioza said.
Brown-Albert said that in order to better achieve a more improved state of cultural diversity, she believes that there needs to be more cooperation from the people themselves.
“Diversity is everybody coming together to appreciate what others bring, and embracing opportunities to learn from each other,” Brown-Albert said. “Strides have been made, but we still have a long way to go.”
Agreeing with Brown-Albert, Lin said that she believes “there’s a lot of good will [on the campus].”
“When it comes to diversity, I am very out there—but diversity in all ways,” Lin said. “If we do not put our voice out there, it will not be in peoples’ minds, so programming is one of many ways to get peoples’ voices out there.”
Larioza and Williams both said the encouraging programs on campus are good overall, but they also have their critiques. Williams in particular believes, like Lin, that more people should put their voices out there to be heard and given a chance; Larioza said he feels there should be more programs “celebrating diversity rather than introducing it.”