College administrators have allowed racial tension to fester for too long


Just when the dreamers among us started to envision a post-racial United States, the roof collapsed.
America fell into a time warp and landed with a thud in the bloody urban streets of riot-torn 1968. New York, Ferguson, Baltimore and South Carolina have spilled blood as African-American men were murdered by rouge police officers.
Southwestern College has not had murders or riots, but our troubled institute of higher education is roiling with racial tension, too, ironic for a college in a progressive community and in a liberal state.
Southwestern College’s diversity makes us different from other institutions in the nation and it should be a strength. Students at SWC experience a rainbow of different cultures on a daily basis and are doing great.
Our so-called grown-ups, however, have embarrassed us again. Some administrators and classified staff have apparently engaged in or suffered racial discrimination for years. Finally, it seems, the lid has blown off the pressure cooker and left a huge mess.
A 2014 Campus Climate Report, showed that 75 percent of faculty members feel an environment of trust and respect does not exist for all employees at the college. A shocking 36 percent said SWC’s morale is worse than what it was five years ago during the worst of the corrupt Chopra era. Those numbers should be a wakeup call to our leaders – if they can find a way to get along.
Earlier this semester a group of employees sent a letter to the NAACP claiming to have experienced racism and a hostile work environment at the college. President Dr. Melinda Nish did what she often does and brushed aside the complaints in her own letter to The Sun. Accusations had already been investigated and dealt with appropriately, she insisted stridently. Some complaints, she said, were dealt with years ago.
Except that they weren’t.
Nish then ordered up diversity training for the complainants. It may prove too little, too late.
Classified union president Andre Harris, a proud African-American, received a death threat in the U.S mail in response to his own letter to The Sun. Harris says he does not see a racial divide on campus and has not been treated badly. Apparently some of his colleagues disagreed.
Four college employees have been placed on administrative leave. John Brown, the former director of facilities, resigned. Operations and Planning Supervisor Ramsey Romero, Dean of Arts and Communication Dr. Donna Arnold and IT specialist Johnny Blankenship were all relieved of duty pending investigations. (It is important to clarify that, to date, no one has been charged with the death threat.)
As students we are sometimes startled by things college leaders say. Asian-American administrators complain out loud that there are not enough Asian-Americans. African-American leaders openly say the same about their group. Both groups complain about the number of Latinos working at SWC. They also complain about all the Latino-themed events.
Our college consists of 53 percent Latino students and five percent African-American students. It is understandable the college would have more, Latino-inspired events, but that does not mean that our African-American events should receive less attention or dedication. Event coordinators from smaller populations need more help. The college should dedicate energy and resources to all events, including many we have not had for Filipinos, Chaldeans, Native-Americans and other of our brothers and sisters.
Southwestern needs to hire based on talent and merit, not by race, but our college, also, needs to respect all of its wonderful and diverse people, including smaller groups like Muslims, LGBT students, Pacific Islanders and Eastern Europeans. Love and respect should transcend categories.
Perception shapes reality and if tensions run high within certain racial groups on campus, then we must talk about the issues instead of putting them in the pressure cooker to futher boil.
No other college in America has the advantages we do. SWC, like a good plate of Lolita’s brilliant hybrid carne asada fries, can bring out the best of blended cultures. Our focus should be on insuring that all cultures present on campus receive the same recognition and respect. If administrators and staff fail to model this, we are in trouble. SWC needs to make a meaningful discussion of racial tensions taking place. Look to your students. We know how to get along with each other. We can teach you.


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