Sunday, April 26, 2009

Diversity at SLCC



alt Lake Community College must improve the teaching of diversity. Despite the White cultural majority in Salt Lake City, the city's population is growing and changing. This same change must be reflected in the surrounding colleges and universities by exposing students to the customs and cultures of their neighbors.

    A strong educational institution needs to produce students capable of working and succeeding in all types of work environments. Here at Salt Lake Community College, students take at least one class to fulfill the diversity requirement. The diversity classes, when taught correctly, inspire the students to learn more about other cultures and lifestyles. This concept of one class fulfilling the racial and social education of students is flawed at the most basic level. Diversity cannot be summed up into a single semester of reading and cramming for tests. Many voices must collaborate and unify to truly reflect the meaning of our multifaceted society (Egbert).

Diversity Debate

    On March 11, 2009, students gathered in TB 203 to participate in a debate on the diversity requirement here at Salt Lake Community College. The moderator's name was Abio Ayeliya. The debaters were Sione Siulua, June Labatai, Nicholas Rossi, Robert Palonko and Leonard Siennick. The Time Keeper was Dr. Clark, Dean of students.

    Before the debate started, a poll was taken of students attending. Out of 36 people in attendance, only eight were minorities. Interestingly, the two debaters on team B who were in favor of eliminating the diversity course requirement were both minorities, while the three debaters in favor of the requirement on team A were all white.

    Team A argued that we as a student body had a responsibility to create diversity. They felt that bigotry is a condition that needed to be changed. One debater stressed the importance of diversity classes to "force a change in perception." This phrase is unsettling as the concept of forcing someone to change their acceptance of diversity seems counterintuitive. How can someone who is "educated" in diversity insist that others need to be "forced" into anything?

    Team A continued with another statement that showed their lack of understanding in the principle of diversity. Despite giving a profound statement of "Homogenized courses result in homogenized students", they lost momentum by claiming that "White is indicative of a lack of culture." While the White culture may be dominant here in Utah, it is not in areas like Brooklyn, Detroit, and Baltimore. Diversity, or lack thereof, cannot conform into a single definition of one race or gender, as every person contains something unique that others can learn from.

    Team B based their argument on the premise that the classes offered here at SLCC are not sufficient enough to require students to pick one. "Just because it is different does not make it good." This summed the opinion of team B as they felt that the classes need to have more to offer students that simply fulfilling a diversity requirement. Creating classes that inspire a diversity of thought will better lead to new understanding than simply studying a different race.

    At the conclusion of the debate a vote was taken to see if the teams had swayed the opinion of those in attendance. 32 voted to keep the requirement, three voted against and one vote abstained (Egbert 1-3).

Defining Diversity

    According to Princeton University, the definition of diversity relates to the condition or result of being changeable (Wordnet). In this concept of changing rest the premise that every person has a chance to change themselves and improve their understandings of the world they live in. While there are some who do not feel the importance of exploring other ways of life, they can never reach a higher plateau of learning without this change. It is also important to note that diversity is not simply a study of a different race or gender. To truly understand diversity a group must explore social difference as well. The many different branches of diversity are as numerous as the people on this earth, because everyone possesses something unique to offer.

Pro's of diversity education

    In creating a campus that truly embraces the teaching of diversity, Salt Lake Community College will produce students, workers and leaders that quickly adapt to new environments and excel with today's diverse workforce. Students enrolled in these classes will understand the connections they share with disenfranchised members of society. As their awareness of others is increased, the students will become more aware of themselves. Self actualization is paramount in excelling in education. As a Professor of Education at San Diego State University, William Piland wrote about the many benefits of diversity in education. Among the benefits, Piland states that students will become better members in society that blends cultures from around the world (Piland 33). As students learn about others, they become more able to interact with the different people they encounter.

Need for diversity

    All students regardless of what major they are pursuing should be required to take multiple diversity classes. There are a number of students who feel that since they are going into a program that is not centered in the Arts or Humanities they should not be required to take additional classes. While their basic logic may be valid, it is the way that American universities function. If the sole purpose of education were to receive purely vocational instruction, then they would have a case, however, American college education encompasses much more than mastering one vocation; education calls upon individuals to truly explore learning in all forms.

The need for diversity education is evident from the results of a survey done by Shelly Hess Dean of Curriculum at San Diego Community College. In her survey Hess found that only 37.5% of students polled have had previous experience learning about women, gays/lesbians and people with disabilities (Hess 544). Among those that had little experience the largest group was White males. Hess noted that the main reason for their aversion to diversity classes was an avoidance to learn about homosexuality (Hess 545). It is unsettling to imagine that slightly more than one-third of the students in college have stepped outside their comfort zones to learn about others. Perhaps what makes this most appalling is the fear some students had of learning about homosexuals. There is a silver lining to this dark cloud. Hess reported that one 18 year old White male did come to an epiphany about women's suffrage; "I thought that it must be hard to have to fight for something that men were given from birth (Hess 546)". Despite knowing some facts about the fight for equal rights by women, this young man never understood the significance of their plight until after taking a diversity course.

Responsibility of schools

Salt Lake Community College has an obligation to the students to provide an institution of learning that reflects the world we live in. School officials and student representatives must work together to create a program that will entice more students to learn about diversity. As a professor of Educational Studies for the State University of New York, Nancy Schniedewind wrote about a four-part process important in creating an environment conducive to teaching diversity: "Empower students to envision and create changes to foster greater equality (Schniedewind, 1)." As the college plans to make changes, the students' voices must be heard.



Responsibilty of the students

    While the college opens a dialogue with students about diversity, students need to use that opportunity to honestly discuss their thoughts without fear or embarrassment. Students who wish to expand their cultural understanding need to become more active in the classroom discussions and school activities. William Piland found that among the many choices available to learn about diversity, it was not enough to just combine people from different backgrounds in one classroom. Students needed to engage each other in conversation to take advantage of each other's experiences (Piland 30). Simply attending a class will not give the student adequate opportunities to learn, but by associating and interacting with diverse students true learning occurs.

    In addition to discussing curriculum with educators, students should actively engage themselves in service to people with whom they are not familiar. There are numerous community organizations that need volunteers to help them accomplish their mission. By becoming active in the community, students will learn firsthand the struggles and hardships faced by others throughout our region.


A change needs to be made to the diversity program here at Salt Lake Community College. This change is vital to this college's ability to create students that will show the nation and world the dedication to equality found here at this school. By widening the doors of the current class curriculum, more students will become involved and create a greater interest in learning the importance that each person plays in society.