After last fall’s speak out, where many students of color shared their experiences with racial injustice while attending Oregon State, President Ed Ray announced a series of actions to promote social justice, civility, respect and safety. These strategies include creation of a new Office of Institutional Diversity, led by interim chief diversity officer Angela Batista. She recently answered questions about the university’s efforts to be a fully inclusive and just community:
Q: How would you define diversity, equity and
A: People often use all of those terms interchangeably, but they don’t always mean the same thing. When I think about diversity, it really reflects who is here and how we’re different or similar. Equity is a little different. It’s about ensuring that everyone experiences the same outcome even if the process is different. Social justice is challenging to grasp. It’s about learning how things have been done in the past, thinking about how that impacts us and creating ways to make everyone feel included. Applying these ideas shouldn’t be the job of one office or one person at Oregon State. We want to create ways for everyone to be involved and create a positive experience for everyone.
Q: What do you see as the responsibility of the chief diversity officer?
A: In my interim role, my responsibilities are to help the university figure out what the position needs to look like and what kind of permanent structure needs to be set up. So far, I’m working with many different partners around campus and in the Corvallis community.
Q: Since you’ve been in this position, what have you been hearing from students? How is this influencing your work?
A: The nature of inclusion is that you hear a lot of different perspectives. We’re holding town hall meetings to talk about different issues that have impacted people. Students with disabilities and student veterans have said they want a space to connect with each other. We have students talking about their experiences around race and ethnicity. I’ve talked to students, faculty and staff a lot about gender identity and gender fluidity. There are many challenges, but we also have a lot of people who are willing to help.
Q: What are some immediate and long-term actions Oregon State is taking?
A: We have a group working on developing educational modules to transition first-year students to Oregon State. Our leadership council is looking at climate information to identify gaps we need to pay attention to. Our provost has a diverse faculty hiring initiative already in place, so we’re doing our best to learn from people who have been hired through that initiative and determine where we can go from here. We’re also developing a plan for training faculty and staff. This takes time, so in the meantime, we’re working to launch this office and set it up as a resource for everyone campuswide.
Q: What are our expectations and vision for students who want to study at Oregon State? What kind of training is being planned for students?
A: First of all, it’s not a one and done. Students won’t learn everything they need to know from one training. Rather, the goal is to create an entry point to the experience they will have at Oregon State. The experience will help them understand what this community is like, what our values are, how we want to engage with one another, and how they can be responsible, take part in this community and engage in respectful ways. The goal is that after the training, they will find ways to continue this conversation.
Q: Can experiential learning help shape students’ understanding of diversity and inclusion?
A: Absolutely! I see examples of this in my own life. I grew up in the Dominican Republic, and I came to the U.S. as a teenager. Since then, I’ve lived and worked in all four corners of the country and in the Midwest. It’s helped me experience what it’s like to be in a new place and how to adapt. For students, there are a lot of opportunities to study abroad, do service learning and other projects in communities they wouldn’t otherwise participate in. There is so much to experience and explore.
Q: What does success look like when we talk about creating a diverse, equitable, inclusive and just community at Oregon State?
A: I want people to know that at the bottom of all of our efforts, the foundation is one of caring and support. That doesn’t mean we have to agree or behave the same way. But we have to consider the experiences of others. It’s not about convincing people to change their beliefs. It’s about understanding the intent and impact their beliefs have. I want members of our community to be committed to our own learning and invite them to be actively engaged. It doesn’t make us bad people that we feel scared of other people and new things. It’s what we do that will define what we need to be inclusive. We each have to do our own work, come together and hold each other accountable. Then, we can create a different experience, a positive experience for everyone.
For more information about the Office of Institutional Diversity, visit leadership.oregonstate.edu/diversity.