Committee looks to enrich diversity on campus

The campus diversity committee is currently looking to bring a greater understanding of diversity onto the John Brown University campus.

Currently, the University has 51 Hispanic students, 26 African-American students, 13 Native American Students and nine Asian or Pacific Islander students out of the total 1,317 undergraduate students on campus.

Carla Swearingen, assistant professor in the Chemistry department and the head of the Campus Diversity Committee, said creating diversity on campus is not about reaching a “number” of minority students but about how accepted those students who are here feel on campus.

Minority students have been “fairly critical” of how welcomed they feel on campus, Swearingen said, and she would like to change this. The committee is currently in a “listening phase” to discover how to best accomplish this goal.

“I don’t actually know how to help them though, so we are having a focus group of students this next week to ask them how we can help,” said Swearingen.

While Swearingen said they will not move forward until they have held their focus group, she is in favor of creating a mentorship program for minority students.

Bridgette Ojo, the president of MOSAIC, the Multicultural Organization of Students Active in Christ, said she would also be in favor of a mentorship program and believes her own interaction with Swearingen has greatly helped her.

“I think once students see professors engage and take an interest in minority students other students will notice,” said Ojo.

The committee has taken other steps to bring a greater level of awareness to the diversity students currently present on campus.

“I think race is something that is swept under the rug,” said Ojo. “People don’t want to talk about it. We find people with a similar background and don’t look outside that group.”

Last year the committee partnered with the History department and MOSAIC to celebrate Black History for the first time on campus.

Ojo said MOSAIC has planned multiple events in the coming months to promote diversity including hosting a ‘Soul Food’ day in the cafeteria during Black History month. They are also planning to show a documentary on American Indians sometime later this month.

Ojo thinks events on campus do not cater to minority students and are not very “well-rounded” in their diversity.

They have also worked with University Communications to have a greater diversity of students and faculty presented in promotional material and on the University’s website.

“We do have a lot of diversity, we just don’t showcase it,” said Swearingen. She also said most of this diversity comes from international students and students who grew up abroad and not minority students from the United States.

She does feel that Admissions is working hard to target minority students, especially Hispanic students from the area.

Admissions has put on events at the local high school specifically for Hispanic students and their parents to learn more about the University and to educate them on the process of going to college.

Diversity is also being taken into consideration during the hiring process for faculty and staff.

“If we want to create diversity in a student body we need to have a diverse faculty,” said Swearingen.

Swearingen and Ojo both said it is important for minority students to have a support group similar to what is available for international students and other students who have grown up abroad.

“It’s easier to have someone who understands,” said Ojo. “A lot of people are ignorant about diversity.”