Diversity enriches higher education
As Eastern Washington University's vice president of the office for diversity and inclusion since July 2017, Shari Clarke is building on EWU's long history of commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Africana studies, American Indian studies and women and gender studies have been taught for 50 years, and Chicano studies for 40 years. Its PRIDE Center is nearly 10 years old, plus it offers disability studies and global initiatives programs.
Her role as the inaugural vice president is a step forward, because it gives her a seat at the table with the president and other vice presidents for making decisions and developing initiatives.
Her office is in Showalter Hall beside the president's office. When construction is complete, the Multicultural and PRIDE Center will be in the Pence Union Building (PUB).
Shari is using several avenues to advance recruitment and retention of students and faculty of underrepresented communities.
• EWU has joined the Southern Regional Educational Board (SREB), an organization that helps recruit and retain faculty by connecting a pool of potential faculty with institutions of higher education. It coaches and mentors graduate school students interested in teaching in higher education and offers a three-day professional development workshop for potential faculty.
• EWU will offer a Summer Institute for Diversity Education May 28 to 31, 2019, to present a 30-hour curriculum that helps 30 faculty, staff and community members understand their own diversity and learn multicultural competency.
• EWU has launched a Multicultural Center, where students and faculty can gather for discussions to hear different viewpoints and build diversity awareness.
• Diversity Cheney reaches out to business owners to let them know about the diversity on campus and in the community. Shari attends events where she encounters the region's diverse communities, such as at Fiesta Spokane, Unity in the Community, YWCA Spokane, and the Carl Maxey Center discussions.
• EWU has also launched a five-year diversity strategic plan to create a climate of inclusion for the recruitment and retention of faculty and staff with a focus on becoming a diversity serving institution.
• The SHE (Self-esteem and Higher Education) Leadership Academy, is recruiting 10 girls each from six high schools—Cheney, Shadle, Rogers, North Central, Ferris, and Lewis and Clark—from underrepresented groups. In March, they will come to campus for a day, participate in a college admissions fair, a poetry slam, music, and workshops on leadership and self-esteem. At the luncheon, 50 girls will be matched with 50 mentors. EWU is recruiting mentors who will connect with the girls once a month.
EWU's commitment to diversity and inclusion was recognized—as was Whitworth University—among 95 institutions of higher education for the 2018 national Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED), a program of INSIGHT into Diversity magazine, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education. The recognition of colleges and universities has occurred since 2012. EWU and Whitworth will be featured in the November 2018 issue.
While 32 percent of EWU's students are from under-represented populations, Shari said EWU seeks more diverse students and has "a robust commitment" to increasing diverse faculty numbers, because they do not yet reflect the number of students.
"When there are openings, we want diverse faculty to be in the pool to be considered," she said.
Shari discussed why it's important for EWU to have diversity among faculty and students.
"Research shows that in the classroom and on campus students benefit from diversity among students and faculty," she said. "It enhances dialogue, giving students different lenses and ways to view issues and people. It changes conversations.
"An educational institution needs to lead in knowledge about global concerns and multiple cultural perspectives. When students graduate and are hired, co-workers will be more than white, straight men," she said. "Employers look to hire people who can interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures, people who are comfortable with and respect differences."
If students are not exposed to differences, they will not know how to engage with different people, she said.
"Higher education is a chance for students to step outside their comfort zones and enrich their lives," Shari continued.
A native of Toledo, Ohio, Shari earned a bachelor's degree from Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., a master's degree at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and a doctoral degree in educational leadership and higher education from the University of Nebraska.
She began her higher education career 26 years ago at Whitman College in Walla Walla, where she grew to love the Northwest.
Shari then held leadership positions at the University of Maine-Orono, the University of Nebraska and Marshall University. She came to EWU from Ohio University, where she had served as vice provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer since 2014.
Her passion to advance underrepresented populations in the faculty, students, staff and community connects with her faith growing up in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. She is involved in Bethel AME in Spokane.
"I have grown up with a belief in the goodness of people. We can respect each other in spite of our differences," said Shari.
She is working with other area university diversity officers, like Lorna Hernandez Jarvis at Whitworth University. She also meets with the chief diversity officers around the state.
"We give voice and visibility to individuals overlooked and not at the table," Shari said. "Given our political climate, diversity matters."
She remembers watching on black-and-white TV as police used water hoses and attack dogs against African Americans, as women burned their bras and as Native Americans stood their ground at Wounded Knee.
"The names have changed from colored people to people of color, Negro to African American, Hispanic to Latinx, Indian to Native American, but brutality and discrimination continue," she asserted.
"Diversity matters so African American men are not killed in the streets, women are not abused and harassed, migrant children are not separated from families, and we relate to people as people," Shari said. "If you get to know someone different from yourself, you will enrich your life. We are better together."
She said EWU's vision is for a community where human difference is affirmed and integrated into students' intellectual, personal, and professional development.
With that commitment, she said its mission is "to create a diverse and inclusive community by using the principles of critical dialogue, reciprocity and solidarity to facilitate learning that cultivates cultural engagement, enriches mindfulness, fosters a sense of belonging and challenges systems of privilege and oppression."
For information, call 359-4742 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ewu.edu/diversity.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2018