Diversity on Campus: Alumni Voices

Building a bigger and better table

Without question “all lives matter,” as many will cry out when the Black Lives Matter Movement organizers remind us that black lives have not mattered enough in our society up to now. Latina/os, Native Americans, and other disenfranchised and underserved groups make the same claim. Latino and Latina lives matter! Native American lives matter!

This phrase was never intended to mean that black lives meant more than others. The meaning always was “black lives matter, too!” In America we have a long history of African American lives being counted for less than those of the white majority, from the counting for three-fifths of a person in the Constitution to the continuance of slavery for blacks only and the Jim Crow laws that were the law of the land up through the middle of the 20th century to the shorter life expectancy of African Americans today. Th e reality is, for all of our progress, America still struggles to allow many different minority populations full access to its benefits.

In response, over the years, attention has been focused on programs and curriculum dealing with issues of equity including ethnicity, “race,” gender, sexual orientation, and abilities. Diversity and inclusion advocates in institutions of higher learning throughout the United States are attempting to not only build their diversity, but also to forcefully affirm it.

My work in the ISU/Ames community as a community activist, mother, student, professor, and multicultural educator has been centered around equity and social justice in education in the public schools and institutions of higher learning. I am convinced we have to include a diversity of cultural backgrounds working together to bring dynamic, creative perspectives as we approach the challenges we face and continue to move forward. Right now we could use more diversity of voices at the table to see this task through.

The first thing that must be done is to concentrate on inclusivity.

This has not been easy or comfortable for most.

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” Pushing this sentiment further, I say: “First they ignore you, then they invite you to the table and ignore you.” My advice is you use your seat at the table to teach them some manners and how to build a bigger and better table.

Yes, differences of viewpoints can and do bring tension, stress, and friction. Nothing moves ahead without those things.

We have to lose our fear of the “other” and invite all stakeholders to the table, to interact, get to know each other, gain appreciation, connect, and learn to care about each other. This is how you lead to a higher level of understanding and knowledge, the first step in breaking the lines of separation. Th is is a national problem, as most of us live in segregated spaces. In so many ways we are more segregated now than before the landmark  Brown vs Board of Education decision came down in 1954, integrating our nation’s schools.

People need to feel they are listened to, understood, and valued. Sometimes we need to stay in our comfort zones for this reason. There are many affinity groups and identity groups established for that purpose, from marching bands to ethnic clubs, international clubs, fraternity/sorority houses, and honor societies. These groups are good for providing us with opportunities to grow in directions we need, but can limit their menu by bypassing a varied and rich selection of prescribed spaces, and missing the opportunities we can gain from joining groups with the more varied membership of people we need to get to know just as much.

The university has the opportunity to open more spaces where its different communities can have meaningful opportunities to work, study, and live together. The barriers we face, or think we face, can be dismantled when we work together on mutual problems.

Before retirement, I directed an ongoing successful program called University Studies: Dialogues on Diversity, where faculty, staff, and graduate assistants facilitated classes of undergraduate students in activities and conversations where dividing lines are examined, among them “race,” ethnicity, economic class, gender, and sexual orientation. The program’s model continues to serve as a strategy for breaking down the barriers among us as people.

We must push each other to find ways to interact with members of our community outside the mostly segregated spaces we are normally offered. Th e university offers that opportunity in a multitude of ways. It is a delicate balance. Just think: Most places of worship have not managed to do it.

I was reminded by an article I read in the New York Times recently that though developing affinity groups makes people feel more comfortable, it could actually help in creating more separation, the opposite of what was intended. This may be true if those are the only sorts of groups we have available to us. I have learned that, like home cooking, some attending to the familiar can be nutritious without limiting our ability to reach out to the wider variety of interesting options beyond. An effective university off ers us the opportunity to develop both. Both are necessary for our progress as a society seeking full inclusion and social justice for all our citizens.

Carlie Tartakov (L)(PhD ’95 professional studies in education) is an emerita professor of curriculum and instruction in Iowa State’s College of Human Sciences. She is a former member of the ISU Alumni Association Board of Directors and currently serves on that board’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. She lives in Amherst, Mass.

How can we be better?

dediosMy quest toward a college degree was far from a given for me. As the daughter of foreign-born parents who hadn’t attended college in Mexico nor the U.S., I knew it was up to me to own the responsibility. I was fortunate to have friends and advisers at Perry (Iowa) High School to guide me through the entrance exam, application, and financial aid processes.

Together, we navigated what could otherwise have been a long, confusing road. I was drawn to Iowa State for the simple fact that my friends enrolled there and it was close to home. Had it not been for that, I may have sought connections elsewhere.

I’m telling this story because I believe it’s an experience shared by many first generation Latino Iowans. The largest, youngest, fastest-growing minority group in our state, Latinos have the potential to lift Iowa State to become a premier example of diversity and inclusion in higher education.

In my time at ISU (2000-2004), connections with Latino faculty and staff were hard to come by. While I knew the numbers of Latinos at ISU would be low, that expectation did not diminish my desire to connect with those who shared my bicultural identity. Joining the College of Business’ Multicultural Business Group was invaluable, giving me the cultural connections with other minority students that I needed.

Toward the end of my college experience, I finally began hearing from successful people who looked like me and shared my culture. I’m so thankful to those individuals and to the university for exposing me to their stories, which inspired and motivated me. It was also humbling to address my class at the College of Business commencement. A memorable experience for many reasons, it allowed me to reflect on the fact that I beat the odds for Latino graduates. At that time, typically only one out of two Latinos graduated with a four-year degree. While the statistics are changing, I hoped to inspire others.

My education and hard work paid off. I have a fulfilling career as the youngest CEO in my organization’s family of companies. It’s my job to introduce more of the nation’s credit unions to the great potential of service to the Latino population. I feel a calling to apply my lessons learned, to help those who have helped me achieve the next level of success.

I’m filled with gratitude as I think about ISU’s courage in choosing to answer the question: “How can we be better?” The university is taking the first of many steps to pave the road in serving tomorrow’s leaders. Imagine ISU as the premier four-year university attracting, retaining, and graduating young, influential multicultural students. Currently, even though more multicultural students are attending college than ever before, they tend to choose two-year rather than four-year degree programs because they attend school part-time, live off campus, and have outside responsibilities (such as providing and caring for family members). If this dynamic is altered and multicultural students begin to feel part of a larger whole, I believe they, along with their families, will create thriving communities that perpetuate growth and change across the state and nationwide.

Miriam De Dios (A)(’04 management and marketing) is CEO of Coopera Consulting in Des Moines, the only exclusive Hispanic credit union consulting company in the nation. De Dios is a graduate of the Leading Change and Organizational Renewal executive education program at Harvard Business School. She also serves as senior vice president for Affiliates Management Company, Coopera’s parent company.

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