by Dariel Chaidez
Throughout its history, North Park has been burdened with campus security issues regarding the school's diverse nature. North Park is an inclusive campus and a place where diversity thrives. Recent events in our society such as the election, police brutality protests, Syrian conflict, and many others have challenged the integrity of our claim to be an intentionally diverse space. Racial issues that plague our society have always infiltrated college campuses and controversial issues are brought out into the open where they can be addressed.
On Oct 21, the North Park Diversity team sent out an email to students detailing a controversial incident that took place on campus a week prior. Dubbed a “bias incident”, the email described an unknown culprit who wrote offensive messages in chalk on the pathways near the Johnson Center. These politically motivated messages were directed toward Hispanic students. While the statement released by the Diversity Team did not include the actual message, some speculate that it had something to do with the wall that will supposedly be built by Donald Trump when he takes office.
The email also included an apology for the missteps and delayed response time of the Diversity Team. Jacqueline Strapp commented on the delay: “The team was trying to find the best way to respond and it was not our intention to delay. We are constantly trying to find ways to improve our response time and keep things transparent.” A system for reporting incidents of bias is currently being developed.
The Diversity Team is a relatively new resource available at NPU and may be unknown to some students as an aspect of university life. The team consists of University Dean, Dr. Liza Ann Acosta, Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement, Dr. Barrington Price, Director of Global Education, Dr. Sumie Song, and Director of Diversity, Jacqueline Strapp. The work done by the team had been previously carried out by Dr. Terry Lindsey and has now taken on a new structure to target different areas of need within the scope of diversity.
The central goal of the Diversity Team is to foster and facilitate an intentionally diverse environment at NPU. It was created as a direct “need for the the strategic execution of issues of diversity”, according to Strapp. At an institution built on campus-wide diversity, there is an obvious need for an entity to this deliberate mission. The Diversity Team exists to uphold and protect the sentiment of dissimilarity among the students and staff. Dr. Barrington Price states, “We want everyone to have the opportunity to learn more and to enhance that learning. We are closing the equity gaps.”
With the need for a team dedicated to diversity oversight, one must ask themselves why this need is present at NPU? When asked if racism still affects college campuses, Strapp replied: “Absolutely. It’s only normal that it’s here [at North Park], much like it is everywhere in our country.” Universities across the nation are still affected by incidents rooted in prejudice and discrimination.
With the establishment of the Diversity Team, broad goals have been set in place. Because of the relative newness of the team, specific goals cannot yet be affixed, yet they will be informed by a large campus-wide climate survey. This survey not only consists of the traditional question-answer survey, but also focus groups and forums. This survey is expected to be completed by the end of this fall semester, and thus “will inform the goals” for the spring semester, as Dr. Price states.
Though there is still work to be done, can we claim North Park as a place where diversity has the opportunity to grow and thrive rather than being shut out by the depths of homogeneity? The answer is a tossup. Jacqueline Strapp says, “No. We have a lot of work to do. We can never say yes until there are no more incidents.”
On the other hand, some think that NPU is already a place where diversity has the environment to thrive. From a student standpoint, second year student Jomarie Perlas states, “This I won’t lie about: yes, I do think that North Park is a safe place for diversity to thrive. Yet on the other hand, though something may be safe doesn’t necessarily always mean that it’s easy.” When asked the same question, Dr. Price states, “Yes. Absolutely. North Park is a community of people that uniquely care for each other.” The real question is not if North Park is already a place where diversity can thrive, it is whether or not our community can come together and accept each other as diverse beings. This is the burning question behind the future of the university, and the question that the Diversity Team is attempting to answer. As for the bias incident, students must look to each other and see ourselves through our differences. We must work to uphold the name of North Park as a place of refuge.