Striving for diversity

Ashlyn Korienek

In terms of diversity, Grand Valley State University strives to be more inclusive with its commitment to inclusion and equity. Increased from 2014, the amount of ethnic and racial diversity within undergraduate students remains low, but faculty and staff is comparatively higher.

Jesse Bernal, vice president of Inclusion and Equity, said in terms of racially and ethnically diversity faculty, tenured and tenure-track faculty are the most diverse groups on campus.

The total amount of minorities within faculty among the 15 public schools in Michigan is about 19 percent. In comparison, GVSU sat at about 16.8 percent in 2014 for tenured and tenure-track faculty, with 15 percent for all full-time faculty.

“This is very different for higher education,” Bernal said. “Across the board, our faculty is quite diverse and that is something to note. However, it is not something to be overly proud of. We’re not that diverse overall.

“We do better than other universities, but we are still striving to do a lot more.”

Bernal said a discrepancy exists between the demographics of minorities in the state, which is close to 23 percent, and between the percent on campus. In addition, he said GVSU has the third highest Hispanic and second highest African American or black undergraduate graduation rate of all Michigan public four-year universities.

“It’s unusual because typically undergraduate diversity at a university is typically higher than faculty,” Bernal said. “As a university, we are committed to equity and inclusion. It is central to our strategic plan to provide equal opportunities and provide an atmosphere for diverse perspectives.”

Bernal said campus diversity, especially with students, is not where it should be. Despite the positive increase from 2014, when 12.5 percent of undergraduates were minorities, the university recognizes the discrepancy in the demographics as fuel for change.

To achieve the desired commitment to equity, Bernal said the department of Inclusion and Equity analyzes campus climate survey data and creates a strategic plan for Affirmative Action. He said they also look at diversity in other identities. A 2011 campus climate survey found about 8 percent of all faculty identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.

“We are certainly heading in the right direction,” he said. “I mean even if you look at the administrative cabinet, gender diversity is quite significant. Ethnic and racial diversity is less, which we need to improve.”

As a federal contractor, GVSU must regard Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws. Bernal said identities cannot be reason for hire, but there are requirements to analyze trends and report on members for hiring purposes.

“Nationally, the ability for minorities to pursue the process to receiving a doctorate degree for higher education is limited and challenging,” he said. “However, we conduct searches when hiring, along with employing a committee dedicated to diversity and equal opportunities.”

The department has an inclusion advocates program, in which one member of every search committee who is trained in recognizing equal employment is active. Their job is to advocate for inclusion throughout the entire process.

“This unique program has done quite a bit with diversity within the faculty,” Bernal said. “The law has been a helpful driver for change, but that is not why we commit to this issue. This is a part of our commitment to inclusion and equity along with our students and faculty.”