Harbaugh

University of Oregon Senator and Professor of Economics Bill Harbaugh helped start diversity and inclusion initiatives back in 2005. (Photo courtesy of Bill Harbaugh)

The University of Oregon Senate passed a Resolution Against Racism and Systemic Oppression on June 10, 2020. The resolution states that the university has much more work to do eliminating microaggressions, recognizing privilege and learning from the effects of structural racism and White nationalism on all People of Color. In turn, the resolution charges Senate leadership with determining how best to implement the changes that are listed in the motion. 

The last line of the resolution reads in red font, “The Senate hereby commits itself to revisiting each action presented in Section II of this resolution by the end of the 2020-2021 Academic Year.” Four weeks into the school year, diversity and inclusion efforts are already well underway.

Yvette Alex-Assensoh, vice president for equity and inclusion and political science professor, is working with the Senate to follow through on everything listed in the resolution. 

“An important aspect of the Senate’s work is self-awareness and discovery,” Alex-Assensoh said. “The Senate is doing the right thing by starting off with themselves and then working together to move forward to institutional change.”

According to Alex-Assensoh, it is important to be aware of the data around equity and inclusion at UO. She said such data will help the Senate to understand where the university is strong as well as where there are opportunities for improvement. 

“The lack of diversity is a situation of institutional underperformance,” she said. “This work is lifelong, and we are operating in ways that prepare us to engage, in an ongoing way, the work of equity, antiracism and inclusion.”

Diversity and inclusion efforts are not just now emerging with the passing of this resolution. Fifteen years ago, the university launched the Summer Academy to Inspire Learning to get low income and underrepresented high school students to attend college. UO Economics Professor Bill Harbaugh said he helped start the program in 2005 when the Senate passed a different resolution regarding diversity. 

“It was all talk with no action,” Harbaugh said. “We thought, ‘This is bullshit. We’re going to actually do something.’” 

SAIL brings local high school students to campus for a week-long summer camp run by faculty volunteers. This summer, the camp was conducted online, which Harbaugh said allowed them to reach students from all over the state. During the school year, SAIL staff members go to local high school classes and give presentations about what college is like and why it’s important. 

“The statistical analysis that we have been able to do suggests that students who come and stay in the program are about twice as likely to go on to college as the control group,” Harbaugh said. 

As for the UO economics department, Harbaugh said he noticed the majority of students in the major are White males. 

“I don’t pretend to understand why that is. I love economics, I think everybody should love economics,” he said. 

However, there have been efforts to diversify the major, including the Women in Economics group and a discretionary fund used to increase offers to underrepresented graduate students during recruitment. The effects of gender differences and racial discrimination are being taught in introductory economics classes, and Harbaugh said he’s trying to add a course on the economics of poverty into the curriculum. 

“It'll be interesting to see what the Senate does to follow through on all the promises they’ve made,” Harbaugh said. “I think there’s always things that could be done to improve.”

Taha Mirghorbani is an undergraduate business major from Iran. He said business is a language that everyone speaks, and it’s important to look above the barriers of gender and race, even though they still exist. 

“I think the majority of the students at the University of Oregon aren’t necessarily considered ethnically diverse,” Mirghorbani said. “However, we have a lot of second-generation immigrants, and certainly there is that minority of immigrants like myself who are here for the first time ever and are trying to figure out stuff.”

Mirghorbani said White privilege manifests itself in the sense that the majority of students who get into selective business programs have a background that helps them get there. He also mentioned that people from outside of the United States don’t have those same connections. 

“We can always just be a little bit more direct about the matter of inclusivity,” Mirghorbani said. “It’s important to be patient with internationals or people who come from outside the country. Give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Lundquist College of Business Dean Sarah Nutter and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee Chair Joshua Beck have been working to improve diversity in their department as well, although it was not the Senate resolution that prompted them to do so. 

“We recognized as a college, I think ahead of the game, that we needed to address and work on this,” Beck said. “So we have been.”

Beck said the department has been very vocal about calling out and condemning racism. He said they are redoing the business school’s website to improve student access to resources such as clubs, scholarships and mentors. Another diversity scholarship was added to help diverse students advance, and there’s been a push for faculty to include more case studies with people from diverse backgrounds.

“We’re doing things like implicit bias training and teaching workshops on how to approach diversity, equity and inclusion in the classrooms,” Beck said. “Instead of trying to avoid those conversations, we’re really trying to engage those conversations in a thoughtful way.”

Nutter said it’s all about actions the school can take to “move the needle.”  For example, a new business course called Cross Cultural Business Communication will be offered in Winter 2021. 

“We definitely know we have a ways to go in diversity, and that’s across gender and almost any other demographic you can think of,” Nutter said. “It’s something that we’re actively working on.”