February 26, 2007
Brown bag panel: Diversity is citical to Emory's strategic goals
by carol clark
In 1978, the minority student population at Emory was less than 5 percent. “Today, Emory is 35 percent students of color and, on top of that, 9 percent international students,” said Donna Wong, assistant dean for campus life and director of the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services. “Emory has become an awesome place to share cultural perspectives.”
This boom in diversity — and a strategic plan that calls for further boosting the multi-cultural mix of scholars — is adding depth and complexity to an Emory education, a panel of five Emory leaders said.
The panel, including President Jim Wagner, aired Emory’s successes and challenges surrounding issues of race, religion and sexuality at a recent informal luncheon titled “Is Emory Safe?” The event was sponsored by the President’s Commission on Race and Ethnicity and the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.
The viewpoints of people from a range of ages, different economic levels, and different races, religions, nationalities and sexual orientation are not something to merely be tolerated — they are vital to great scholarship, Wagner said.
“We can’t claim to have fully studied something unless we have all these perspectives,” he said. “To be fully inquiry driven, we have to have diversity.”
Emory has long recognized the need for creating a safe environment where multiple viewpoints and lifestyles can thrive, said Ali Crown, director of the Center for Women. In 1990, the University formed the Task Force on Security and Responsibility in the Emory Community “to take a serious look at these issues.” That task force generated the Center for Women and the offices of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life and Multicultural Programs and Services.
“I don’t think we need worry here about being physically assaulted — which is of a very real concern other places,” said Saralyn Chesnut, director of the Office of LGBT Life. She added that instances of name-calling and taunting of members of minority groups occasionally occur on campus, despite the University’s “good policies.”
“There are still issues of intolerance,” agreed Wong. “I don’t want to diminish that. Sometimes a faculty member does not have the resources to respond well when a ignorant remark has been made in a class.”
“We all need to help in trying to figure out ways to turn an incident into a teaching moment, and not an explosive moment,” said Provost Earl Lewis.
The panel cited the Transforming Community Project as an initiative that is helping to get dialogue going across groups and improve understanding. “Leslie Harris, the director of the TCP, says, ‘You don’t have to do something huge to make a difference. If everybody does one thing, then it has a cumulative effect.’ I like to think of it that way, too,” Chesnut said.