In an effort to better understand the challenges facing some minority students at University of Oregon, the Emerald interviewed students of color and faculty who have devoted their careers to addressing diversity and inclusion. Some students have used their experiences to reflect on their own biases and have taken steps to change their own behavior. Some students on campus have challenged their instructors on issues around race. This is the fifth part of a series coming out this week examining the role of discrimination at UO.
Vickie Gimm, president of University of Oregon’s Multi-ethnic Student Alliance, says the only way to make progress around the topic of racial discrimination at UO is to actively be anti-racist.
“We live in a society that was built off of genocide of indigenous people, enslavement of Black bodies, exploitation of groups all around,” Gimm said. “Racism is ingrained in our society.”
At the University of Oregon, white professors comprise 83 percent of tenure-related faculty, with the next largest group being Asian professors, who comprise 9 percent. Black faculty comprise 1 percent.
UO President Michael Schill said that creating a more inclusive campus for minority students, who comprise 25.3 percent of the student body, is one of his top priorities.
“We have work to do in our society, and there is no reason to believe that work doesn’t also have to be done in educational institutions,” he said during an informal meeting with the Emerald in December 2016. “And, indeed, because educational institutions are the vanguard of change in our society, you would expect that this is where a lot of the activity takes place.”
UO administrators and students alike are working to address systemic discrimination in a variety of ways.
Ethnic studies major Aleiya Evison attributes the majority white demographics to the fact that UO is a historically white university in a historically white state. Oregon state laws once called for Black people to be beaten every six months. She says this context of the university and state’s history is not being taught to enough students. Acknowledging that history is something Evison says could be a step toward changing the problems of systemic racism at UO.
Last year, the Black Student Task Force issued 12 demands to UO’s administration with one of them being to dename Deady Hall, whose namesake’s history had a racist past. The message students of color on campus receive by having this building’s name remain on campus is that the history of discrimination remains as well.
Another one of the task force’s demands was to have Ethnic Studies 101 become a graduation requirement for all students. As an ethnic studies major, Evison said that taking these classes is a great way to learn about diversity.
“Sitting in an ethnic studies classroom where so many different races and ethnicities are represented in one room is invaluable for my education,” she said. “It benefits students of color and white students to be in an educational space where they are getting different perspectives and the norm is being challenged.”
Ethnic studies professor Daniel Hosang said a majority of UO students will go through their college careers without being taught by Black faculty. When students only ever learn from people who identify as white, he said, the experience may be training their subconscious to believe they have nothing valuable to learn from a person of color.
When Hosang had to leave class for a day, he had one of the graduate teaching faculty give the day’s lecture.
Hosang returned to find that students had talked over her, ignored her and didn’t listen. Another GTF corroborated that it didn’t seem like the class was unfocused because it was a substitute, rather it seemed like they were openly defying her.
She felt that because she is a woman of color, the students thought they could disregard her authority.
Hosang said it’s difficult to prove discriminatory intent, but that the hurtful experience for the GTF and the general acceptance of the students’ actions is a reality on campus.
Hosang said that “because we live in a very racialized, segregated and sometimes patriarchal world, we have to think about big picture forces.” Those forces being the policies and structures that historically segregated the U.S. such as Jim Crow laws.
The effects of bigoted philosophies in U.S. history remain today, but UO faculty such as law professor Erik Girvan work to create new norms.
“We as a society have decided that certain characteristics ought not to be included in certain decisions,” Girvan said. “Your race should not affect whether you get a job or how you are graded on an exam.”
Girvan facilitates implicit bias trainings for faculty hiring groups at UO to help prevent them from having bias influence the outcome of their decisions.
In his own classes, he uses randomized numbers on students’ exams so that graders can’t be influenced by the gender or race they may associate with a person’s name.
Despite Grivan’s efforts, administrators don’t think a large enough impact has made it to campus yet.
Abe Schafermeyer, director of international student and scholar services, said that, “There are issues here. And we know it and we can see it. And we see it play out in different ways.”
He referred to examples when a student thought they received a “C” because the professor doesn’t like people who can’t speak English well.
“I think there’s a general consensus that this campus needs to have more dialogue surrounding inclusion and diversity,” Schafermeyer said.
Since president Schill introduced a plan to the deans of schools at UO to progress inclusivity and diversity on campus, Schafermeyer and his department have come up with concrete ideas to move forward.
One of Schafermeyer’s plans is to create an international student liaison position at UO. This will be a paid position to work with international students and then tell administration what the student experience is actually like. He hopes to gain a better understanding of how comfortable students feel and what obstacles they face.
“As leaders, as front line staff and faculty that interact with students every day, we need to think deeply about what our roles and responsibilities are individually and what we’re doing to impact this conversation,” Schafermeyer said.
Schafermeyer is one of nine deans at UO tasked to help create a more inclusive campus. Schafermeyer hopes that their plans can bring drastic change to the student and faculty experience at UO, but regardless of their outcome, he believes one thing to be true:
“The status quo isn’t an option.”
Anna Lieberman contributed reporting to this article.