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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Adams gives first annual State of Diversity address

Published: October 5, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

In his first annual State of Diversity address Monday Night, Associate Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams discussed the results of an undergraduate student survey concerning issues of diversity and tolerance as well as initiatives to promote campus unity and cultural awareness.

Adams opened his speech with the poem The Welder by Chicana writer Cherre Moraga, which emphasizes that we all come from the same rockfusion is possible, but only if it gets hot enough.

The poem set the stage for the discussion of diversity and how the Brandeis community must work together to build a solid foundation for unity.

Adams then shared highlights from the diversity survey. 536 students responded to the survey, which was administered via email to Brandeis undergraduates last March. Adams, along with Diana Chiang '07, Arjan Singh Flora '07 and M. Simon '07, worked together to formulate the survey's 28 questions concerning student backgrounds and identity, cultural exposure and awareness, prejudice, residence life, academics and other issues.

Fifty per cent of students reported being in the upper middle class;

twelve-and-a-half per cent reported being in working class, and ten-and-a-half per cent come from households with an income of less than $30,000.

Most students identified their faith as Jewish, although Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths were also represented. Twenty-five per cent of students reported being agnostic or atheist, with thirteen per cent declining did not list their religion.

When asked to explain who you are and what you represent, students listed religion, politics, socioeconomic status and ethnicity. Students also identified their gender as not just male or female, but also intersex and transgender.

Eighty-six per cent of students said they felt comfortable expressing their racial backgrounds and eighty-five per cent felt comfortable expressing their sexual orientation.

94.9% of students said Brandeis exposed them to a group different than their own. Eighty-five per cent of respondents reported that they spend time with students of a race different from their own, Ninety-six per cent spend time with students of a different religion, and seventy-eight per cent spend time with students of a different sexual orientation.

Adams commended student clubs and organizations on their contribution to making Brandeis students feel more connected, citing the survey's findings that ninety- one per cent of respondents said clubs helped them feel a sense of community.

Ninety-seven per cent of students said that building relationships with peers was the biggest contributing factor to feeling a sense of community at Brandeis. Adams said this number emphasizes the importance of student relationships because exchange of conversation and dialogue are the cornerstones of diversity. Its where we begin to understand each other, move forward and explore different things.

While most of the survey results showed Brandeis strengths in fostering student relationships and promoting diversity, the statistics also revealed areas in need of improvement.

Forty-two per cent of students reported feeling judged or stereotyped by members of other groups. Many students also reported seeing others being mistreated or misunderstood at Brandeis based on their religion, politics, socioeconomic status and ethnicity.

When asked, To what extent does the culture of Brandeis support people in getting to know people of different backgrounds? fifty-one per cent of students said not at all or minimal.

This is concerning, said Adams, adding, I imagine that when we do this survey in Spring, we will see a change in a lot of these numbers.

Adams commended the programs already in place that support a diverse community at Brandeis. The WBRS program Diverse Megahertz, which discusses issues of diversity, was one of top shows last year. The Brandeis chapter of Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR) was highlighted as one of the most successful

Adams also commented on the recent celebration of the Intercultural Centers 15-year anniversary and the events it sponsors, including Culture X, Pachanga, Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month.

Adams also described the initiatives that are currently in development to improve diversity at Brandeis. He said that on-campus media is an area of concern and the need to address cultural insensitivity, citing the open dialogue session discussing the Gravity magazine controversy.

Adams is working with members of the Queer Resource Center and Triskelion to hire a professional staff member to work on GLBT issues. He said Provost Marty Krauss' committee on diversity is working to create a mission statement on diversity as well as a DVD that discusses diversity at Brandeis. The Chaplaincy is also trying to build spiritual bridges connecting the different faiths represented on campus. Community Advisors and Orientation Leaders are constantly working on programs to build a culturally sensitive community.

Senator for Racial Minority Students Gabriel Gaskin 08 said, Hearing the poll results was very intriguing and taking those results and using them to pinpoint what needs to be done. It looks like theres a surge in interest surrounding diversity.

However, Gaskin also expressed concern for the relatively low turnout for the speech.

Look at the crowd, there were probably less than 30 people. Thats less than one percent of the population here, he said, echoing remarks he made earlier during the open forum section of the event, Theres an aura of apathy here. There are emotion- evoking events that transpirebut there is inevitably a sense of apathy toward that issue. How can we actually penetrate that aura that blocks people from talking about those things?

As Senator for Racial Minority Students, Gaskin will also be exploring issues of race and diversity on campus to further define diversity and find out what it means for the Student Union and for the campus community.

Director of Union Affairs Jason Gray 10 explained, We believe that it is really important to make understanding diversityboth the successes from the past and the challenges for the futurea priority.

Gray said the Senate Diversity Committee, made up of both Senate and non-Senate members, is working to foster inter-club collaboration in order to create student partnerships and connections. The committee is also planning diversity activities where students can hear speakers and explore what diversity means and how it applies to everyday life.

I think the biggest problem is that people who do different things dont talk to each other, Etta King 10, who attended the State of Diversity speech. Its easy to get sucked into your own clubs and not take the opportunity to go to other cub events. There needs to be a push within student leadership and the student body to try new things and meet new people. Everyone has responsibility to do that.