Portland State, the most racially diverse college in Oregon, is also the only college in the Oregon University System without a diversity requirement. The executive committee of the ASPSU is working to change that.
The committee, led by PSU student-body president Mary Cunningham, proposed to the faculty senate that a diversity requirement be added to the university studies program. The proposal was denied.
Cunningham believes the faculty senate felt the university studies program was under attack. “I have no reason to attack university studies and student government has no reason to attack them; I have always been very supportive of the program,” Cunningham said.
There is agreement between everyone involved that the issue of diversity awareness needs to be addressed.
However, the solution to the issue is not agreed upon.
Since a 1999 survey of faculty and students revealed that lack of diversity was a top concern, PSU president Daniel Bernstine has actively attempted to increase diversity in many areas of campus life.
The survey results prompted Bernstine to form a diversity action council to focus on four major areas of improvement: increasing numbers of minority students; increasing the number of faculty, administration and classified staff from minority groups; strengthening connections with diverse communities in the region; and enhancing the institutional environment, curriculum and scholarship.
Prior to the university study program’s introduction in 1994, the general education program required that students take one class that would fulfill a diversity requirement. Some diversity classes were psychology of women, introduction to African American history, dance ethnology, women in the economy and American Indian literature.
Judy Patton, executive director of university studies, also agrees that there are some improvements to be made within the program, but feels that students are exposed to less diversity when they have a one class requirement than when completing a program designed to integrate diversity throughout four years.
Patton supports a requirement to have diversity issues in the curriculum, but feels that this requirement can be included in the existing University Studies program and is already one of the four interdisciplinary goals of the program.
She explained that the program does not limit diversity to just issues of race, but also gender, age and ability. “There are all kinds of diversity issues that we need to keep woven into there. It’s a very complex issue,” Patton said.
Cindy Free, senior communications major and student in the university studies program, said that the racial make-up of the classes sometimes creates conversation and varying viewpoints that add diversity to the course.
Although Free recognizes some benefits of the university studies program she is unhappy with the requirements that already exist. As a transfer student who returned to school at 26 years old, Free knows what her academic goals are and feels restricted by the cluster requirements. “Being required to take, for example, this citizenship class as opposed to another higher level Spanish class, where my real interest lies, is very disappointing,” Free said. Her frustration is further compounded by her belief that appealing the university studies requirement is nearly impossible.
ASPSU is continuing its effort to add a diversity requirement to University Studies. Cunningham explained, “I could be a student and leave here without taking any diversity classes.”