Stroud: Future CWRU diversity lies in numbers of past

Anyone who missed the MLK Convocation on Jan. 22 was absent for something truly inspirational. From the opening musical presentation by Case Western Reserve University’s gospel choir, Voices of Glory, to President Barbara R. Snyder’s closing remarks, the whole hour long ceremony elicited a collective feeling of reverence from the audience that I had not yet seen in my college career. Contributing momentously to this occasion was the speech of keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson, someone I (and probably many others) had no prior knowledge of. Yet he delivered a message that embodied the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and made the whole experience truly unforgettable.

After the convocation was finished, I received a copy of the “2015 Annual Diversity Report”; I was curious about the state of diversity on campus. I took it upon myself to review the past five issues of the “Annual Diversity Report” produced by CWRU’s Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity (OIDEO). I found a wealth of achievements that would certainly make anyone in the CWRU community proud to be a part of such a proactive institution. The well-organized booklets showcased a multicultural campus in photos and in descriptions of programs enhancing the diversity of CWRU’s campus.

However what I found even more interesting was the page containing the “demographic snapshot,” always located at the very end. These snapshots were interesting in the sense that numbers tell a different story than words or photos.

Over the past five years the percentage of non-white full-time faculty has remained around 23 percent with very little change in total number of faculty. As for non-white full time staff, the share has remained constant at 39 percent even with fluctuations in the total number of staff.

In regards to the student population, the total number of undergraduate students has increased by 1,105 since the “2011 Annual Diversity Report,” yet the change in non-White students has only increased from 46 percent to 49 percent in the same amount of time. This implies that more non-white than white students made up the “pool” of new students added to the student population, a laudable feat that we should be proud of.

What can clearly be drawn from these “demographic snapshots” is that the overall racial makeup of CWRU has changed relatively little in comparison to administrative programs that enhance diversity of CWRU. While the data would suggest that campus diversity is technically improving, this is only true among the student population and is growing much slower relative to the ideal for all members of CWRU.

In relation to the MLK Convocation, Stevenson spoke about four key tenets of combatting injustice, those being: gaining proximity, changing the narrative, maintaining hope and accepting uncomfortableness. I believe that the CWRU community strongly represents these beliefs in the work that has been done and the work that is still in progress. However, while we take a moment to pat ourselves on the back for all that has been accomplished, it is important to note that perhaps we have committed to some of these tenets more so than others. Particularly those of changing the narrative and maintaining hope.

The catchy headlines of new diversity program improvements may satiate our desires of do-gooding, but acknowledging even further that there still remains an underlying diversity disparity in the demographics of students, staff and faculty is the level of uncomfortability that still needs to be addressed.

Now I’m in no way trying to dismiss the fine work that the OIDEO and CWRU community as a whole have achieved; the state of diversity on campus is almost certainly stronger than it has ever been. The new initiatives and success stories touted in the pages of the “2015 Annual Diversity Report” are a testament to how far CWRU has come, and how strongly the administration is committed to diversity issues.

Nevertheless, what is worrisome about the level of progress that has been achieved is that there are feelings of complacency that will maintain the status quo. Of particular interest is the expiration of CWRU’s Diversity Strategic Action Plan, originally produced for the years of 2012-2015. Now that the university has moved past these years, I wonder what the administration has in store for furthering diversity initiatives.

Will a new action plan be developed? Or will the current level of achievement be deemed ‘good enough’?

Austin Stroud is a first-year student and bi-weekly opinion columnist at the Observer.