When it comes to serving students at Pierce College, the processes seem fairly smooth, and staff confident in its format. When it comes to representation, however, it’s an entirely different matter.
Pierce College’s mission is to “create quality educational opportunities for a diverse community of learners to thrive in an evolving world.”
This mission is measured by five core themes, one of which is Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity. Fulfilling EDI is stated as “Pierce College will promote an equitable, diverse environment for teaching, learning and working, with collaborative decision-making and mutual respect.”
Despite grand statements focusing on students success and an open community, EDI is far from understood at Pierce College.
According to the college’s website, the mission and core themes are measured by the Board of Trustees over the college. The mission is viewed as fulfilled when 70 percent of core themes are met. In reality, this means EDI could be entirely disregarded, but Pierce could continue to operate successfully under its mission.
While Pierce is far from a college void of inclusivity, there are many less than pleasing representation issues on campus.
It begins with the Office of Student Life. Anasia Khammala, Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Senator at the Puyallup Campus, says then her position focusing on representation is difficult to say the least.
According to Khammala, few students know her position is even on the Office of Student Life and rarely come to her with ideas or comments. While she would love the feedback, there are questions as to what the OSL is doing to represent students regardless of student involvement on the issue.
Khammala’s biggest goal for the year is to get a positive response for administration regarding a Diversity Center. Students have continually asked for a space to work and build a community that feels safe and inclusive. Khammala says the administration has been hesitant to okay the space, as they hope students feel included on all of campus and don’t feel as though they need to shut out the college to find a welcoming group of students.
Khammala and other members of the OSL visited other college diversity centers in October, hoping to gain inspiration as they plan for the space.
Khammala also has ideas to open discussion groups and an EDI committee, allowing more student feedback on needs.
Ultimately, Khammala hopes to get the process started for the diversity center this year.
While intentions are needed, little practical measures have been taken to ensure such projects are completed. Khammala credits the lack of actual work to the EDI position being a newer one for the OSL. Regardless, a lack of representation is still the same, regardless if there are ideas to change the current atmosphere. Changes can only be made if they are, well, made.
Khammala’s struggle with EDI representation is clear; she wants students to know that work is happening.
“My job does exist,” Khammala said. “EDI does exist.”
Representation, as it is seen, goes beyond what student leaders are capable of. The process of building EDI is a newer one at best. According to Chancellor Michele Johnson, no executive positions were created for EDI until just three or four years ago.
About four years ago, Pierce College completed an organizational assessment with a representative who looked over the college process as a whole. At the time, Pierce was recommended to hire a staff member for EDI at the executive level.
Only two years ago, Oneida Blagg was hired as the Executive Officer for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. After just 18 months, Blagg stepped down from the position at the end of Spring Quarter in 2018. Since then, there has not been an executive member for EDI, and little EDI focused staff members at each campus.
While they are in the process of hiring another executive member, the application timeslot closing in December, the Chancellor believes there won’t be a person to fill the position until February.
There are currently no EDI specific staff members at the Puyallup campus, and one staff member at Fort Steilacoom, an Administrative Assistant for EDI, Shelby Winters. Winters declined to comment on the issue of EDI, saying she did not have enough expertise in the area to give a statement.
Upon the creation of the EDI executive officer, Pierce also established an EDI council. The college is made of several councils, such as curriculum development.
The EDI council was created to discuss issues pertaining to representation on campus and pose questions and information to other councils to ensure representation was taken into account for each avenue of the college.
The council is composed of staff members and students, and one member of the staff team is chosen as the Vice-Chair each year.
The current vice chair for the EDI council is Vicki Howell-Williams, a faculty counselor advisor at the Puyallup campus.
Howell-Williams acknowledges how short of time the EDI council has been running. In her mind, the council serves as a way to respond to student concerns and better serve the student population as a whole. The council hopes to accomplish a few key tasks this year, known as action plans. These tasks include creating the multicultural center and hiring staff members of color, to allow students to identify with those who are leading and teaching them.
Staff representation has been a continual issue.
According to Chancellor Johnson, student diversity is actually better representative of different groups than the Puyallup area. Whereas the Puyallup area is 84 percent white, Pierce college was listed as only 53.7 percent white in Fall 2015.
Despite student diversity, representation among staff members is definitely lacking. The chancellor believes that classified and part-time staff are fairly representative of the student population, but faculty and professors are sorely lacking in representing various minorities.
Any student could probably recognize how little they have been taught in class by a professor of an African-American, Hispanic or Asian ethnicity. The Chancellor acknowledges the issue, and like Howell-Williams, hopes to see a change in this as they hire for the future.
Regardless of efforts being made to further EDI, there are many avenues to which Pierce could still improve. Practical efforts among staff may cause a behind-the-scenes effect for students on campus, but without tangible representation of this work for students, EDI can never have its intended impact at Pierce.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost