Diversity on the Rise; Board of Trustees Takes Action

By Michelle Bedoya

A diversity update regarding the college was discussed at a recent Board of Trustees Meeting, leading to awareness of the school’s attempt to increase the growth of multicultural variation on all campuses.

The meeting held Feb. 20 in the Brookhaven Gymnasium Alumni Room on the Ammerman Campus,  started at 4 p.m. and lasted approximately an hour and a half. A presentation discussing the freshly implemented diversity goal was displayed to the audience shortly into the meeting.

On March 15, 2011, the College’s Board of Trustees implemented Institutional Goal #6 as part of the school’s strategic plan, adding an objective focused primarily on diversity within the college. “The BOT felt that given the rapidly changing demographics within Suffolk County…the College must strive to ensure that it reflects the community it serves,” states the 2013-2020 Strategic Plan.

The Diversity Goal attempts to decrease ethnic disparities and academic achievement disparities among cultural groups at the school.

“This includes focus for staff, faculty, and students,” said Christina Vargas, Affirmative Action Officer at  the college. “It provides [feelings of] inclusion; a sense of belonging while feeling respected and valued.” Vargas spoke about the update at the February meeting.

A summary of the school’s diversity goal was followed by a discussion of the actions that are being taken in attempt to accomplish it.

“We strive for equality at every stage of the hiring process,” Vargas said of the ongoing search to share the diversity goal among the college’s staff.

The Board of Trustees agrees. Suffolk’s 2013-2020 Strategic Plan reads that due to ethnic disparities, “the work group established an objective that would focus recruitment and hiring practices at the College on increasing the overall diversity of College employees.”

Vargas  explained that information and data regarding ethnicity is collected on Suffolk’s applicant pools.

Despite efforts to increase diversity, The BOT’s new goal is met with some questioning.

“The community college reflects only a portion of the diversity in Suffolk County,” said Samantha Ramos, 20, of Manorville. “During my time at Suffolk, I only took classes with Caucasian professors.” Ramos graduated last semester with a degree in Liberal Arts, attending classes at both the Eastern and Ammerman Campuses.

Others don’t see how the diversity of the college’s staff is relevant to the school’s success.

“I don’t think that diversity affects the efficiency,” David Weiss, 19, said when asked whether he thought SCCC’s faculty and staff are diversified in ethnicity.

However, Vargas spoke only of the success that these efforts have received. “Nearly 20% of all new hires were from under-diverse groups on all campuses,” she said of the faculty and staff since the goal was implemented into Suffolk’s Strategic Plan.

Based on census reports, this could be true. The IPEDS-S Fall Staff Survey of 2007 showed that 91 percent of faculty at the college was White Non-Hispanic, and only 12.6 percent of all employees were of a minority group. A survey taken after 2011 could not be found.

The subject of diversity among the college’s students was met with opinions that didn’t vary as much.

“I’ve seen more diversity among the students than staff,” said Krystal Hughes, a recent college graduate.

“Diversity is reflected more so in the student body than in the faculty,” agreed Ramos, who is of Cuban and Puerto Rican dissent.

Similarly, when asked if he felt the student body of the Ammerman campus exemplified multicultural diversity, Weiss said, “I’d say so.”

According to headcount reports by the Office of Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, the ratio between Black Non-Hispanic and White Non-Hispanic students on all campuses has steadily increased between April 2010 and April 2013, two years after the BOT implemented the diversity goal into their strategic plan. The ratio between Hispanic students and those who identify as White Non-Hispanics has increased as well.

The number of students identifying as non-resident aliens on all campuses has also increased since the start of Goal #6, bringing to light the question of whether states should extend in-state tuition to students without documentation.

The student audience of about 20 people at the Board of Trustees Meeting, however, was mostly of Hispanic dissent; with this year’s student trustee Felipe A. Espitia Cetina identifying as Hispanic as well. Cetina did not respond when asked to comment on his opinions on multicultural representation on all campuses.

Vargas concluded her update with a note that the diversity work group is exploring other ways of educating and training the faculty and staff .

“We’re providing online training on topics such as gender and race discrimination,” she said, reinforcing its importance. Both the Board and audience met her presentation with a positive response.

Still, the question of increasing ethnic diversity among faculty and students for the sake of doing so remains a controversial one.
“Suffolk County as a whole is an incredibly diverse community,” Ramos said. “Ethnic diversity is essential to creating a well-rounded learning experience.”

The next Board of Trustees meeting is on Thursday, March 20 in the Lecture Hall of the Montaukett Learning Resource Center on the school’s Eastern Campus.

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