Essays: Further Thoughts on Diversity from the Drake Community

Photo of Amy BenesLessons Learned as a Minority Abroad

Amy Benes, JO’09
Fulbright Scholar

I live in Gurye, a city of 15,000 in the southwestern tip of South Korea where I teach conversational English to 250 high school students. I am one of six foreigners in my town and one of only two foreign women. I came to Korea as a Fulbright English teaching assistant in July 2009, and the experience of immersing myself in this language and culture has helped me learn a tremendous amount about myself.

Perhaps the two most important lessons I’ve learned are jeong and noonchi. Both play a tremendously important role in Korean life and have helped me adapt to the environment.

Jeong is a deep, brotherly understanding of others. It is such a deep understanding that individuals who have jeong can sense one another’s needs. Unlike American culture, this type of understanding, or empathy, is not restricted to friends and family. Jeong exists naturally between strangers in Korean culture. For example, while jogging on an especially warm day, I grew tired and sat down on the curb to catch my breath. Soon, I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard, “Drink!” Sure enough, a complete stranger had brought me a glass of water. This stranger treated me as he would a friend. That’s jeong.

Noonchi is the use of nonverbal cues to draw conclusions about a situation. Koreans pay much more attention to nonverbal cues than Americans. I depend on noonchi every day because Koreans tend to show rather than tell.

My favorite noonchi story is that of my friend’s host mom. He often describes her driving as “noonchi driving.” In other words, she pulls out in front of people, changes lanes and runs lights based on social cues from other drivers. While she is usually correct in her assumptions, riding with her still makes my friend nervous.

Both jeong and noonchi play very important roles in my ability to understand and adapt to situations in a new culture. My experiences in Korea have been, at the very least, life changing. As a result of my time in Korea, I have discovered a beautiful, and often overlooked, culture while continuing to grow professionally and personally.

Visit www.amybenes.blogspot.com to read Amy’s blog about her experiences in Korea.

Photo of Victor CedenoMore Than Skin Color

Victor Cedeño
Politics and Psychology double major
Class of 2011

When people think about diversity their first thought might not be Drake University. But those same people would be surprised if they were to spend a few days on campus. I did not expect a small private college in the Midwest to have the global reach and representation of Drake. I have met people from many different countries and different regions of the United States, but that is not where diversity truly shines at the University.

As one of few Latinos on campus, it is apparent to me that Drake does not have a large number of minorities. Yet I have seldom been in such a diverse group of people. Not only does Drake have people from vastly different backgrounds, the University fosters an atmosphere where divergent points of view are encouraged. I’ve noticed that every student is encouraged to be an individual and challenge each other and themselves. This is especially clear in the classroom where all of our professors welcome different points of view and challenges to their own teachings.

One of the best components of the Drake experience is the large number of students who study abroad. While I did not personally leave campus, those who have make a difference for all of us. The experiences they bring back and share with others go a long way in helping us all gain an understanding of the greater world.

Even without large numbers of minorities on campus, there are a plethora of student organizations that represent various cultures. There are always eye-opening programs that expose students to different cultures and schools of thought.

At first I was worried Drake would not be diverse enough for me, but I have been pleasantly surprised. My experience here has taught me that diversity has to do with a lot more than with the color of our skin.

Photo of Donald ChikwaniEmbracing the Unknown

Donald Chikwani
Economics and International Relations double major
Class of 2013

Diversity exists in each and every one of us, individually and collectively. It is everything that makes each of us different and all of us similar. Diversity is what we can see and what we cannot and do not see in each other. It is reflected in the different ways we walk, talk, think and behave. Diversity comes from, among other things, our differences in culture, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, geography, lifestyle, education, income, health, physical appearance, pigmentation, language, personality, beliefs, faith, dreams, interests, aspirations, skills, professions, perceptions and experiences.

I certainly have experienced diversity on the Drake campus. I can actually recall numerous times when I have encountered very disparate philosophies of being, some that categorically violated my personal core beliefs, and some I found to be agreeable.

One night I had a long discussion about life and death with a friend in Carpenter Hall. For more than five hours we exchanged thoughts and ideas, opinions and perceptions, beliefs and convictions. Though it was a civil discussion, it felt like an argument until we both realized that we were trying to make sense of what the other said in the context of our own perceptions and experiences. This made us sound absolutely ludicrous to each other. My friend is a Buddhist and believes that after death we are reincarnated as a human or other being based on how we live our present life. I am Christian, and I believe in Heaven and Hell. We both look at the world in different ways. Instead of trying to rationalize the other’s belief system, we both should have embraced our differences in faith, and simply enjoyed each other’s differences.

This understanding was a tremendously exciting experience for me. I hope that others realize what a diverse campus Drake has to offer and that embracing this diversity helps enrich the Drake experience.

Photo of Lawrence CrawfordBuilding an Exceptional Learning Environment

Lawrence Crawford
Public Relations and International Relations
Class of 2011

Drake’s mission statement articulates the goal of establishing an exceptional learning environment. With regard to diversity, however, I am tempted to question just how serious Drake has been about providing this “exceptional learning environment” and offering within it the opportunity to learn from an exceptionally diverse community.

I have encountered a variety of issues when trying to address the absence of ethnic, cultural and/or professional diversity at Drake both through the student population and in academic settings with faculty and staff. And while diversity can be defined in various forms and some may be present at Drake, it is also true that some forms of diversity are not apparent.

Here are a few statistics that I have learned over the years. Of the more than 3,000 full-time undergraduates at Drake, fewer than 3 percent (92 students) have self-indentified as being black/African-American, and that number is significantly lower for those identifying as Hispanic/Latin-American (fewer than 2 percent). Additionally, of the 34 courses that I have enrolled in over three years at Drake, I have yet to take a course taught by a professor who identified with my own ethnic background.

I sincerely believe that there are some lessons — whether social, educational or experiential in nature — that cannot be adequately taught by someone without the credible resources and background necessary to acquire such knowledge. I have sat in class and pondered the credibility of a professor who appeared oblivious to the fact that s/he might not be the most reliable source for delivering the subject matter.

I think that in order for the University to take serious its promise of providing students with an “exceptional learning environment,” it must provide students with the best available faculty members who can capably and reliably deliver culturally sensitive material to students both in and out of the classroom. In addition to faculty diversity, I think the value of recruiting students who accurately represent the nation’s ethnic and cultural makeup can definitely prove beneficial to the Drake experience that is currently reserved for a slightly less diverse, yet educationally opportunistic student body at Drake University.

Photo of Adriana FloresDiversity Matters

Adriana Flores, GR’09
Executive Director of Latinas Unidas por Un Nuevo Amanecer (L.U.N.A.)

There are many ideas as to what “diversity” means, but it basically refers to the differences that exist among us.

We tend to generalize the word and immediately attach it to culture or ethnicity when in reality we are all diverse human beings. The differences among us can be related to race, ethnic background, gender, socioeconomic status, ability, language, religion, physical characteristics, sexual orientation and many other factors. As we continue to become a nation full of diversity, it’s important that we value, understand and embrace our differences so that we can learn and benefit from each other.

It is especially important at the university level that faculty and students encompass and embrace diversity. A recent article published in The Des Moines Register stated that Latino enrollment in Iowa universities is on the rise and that diversity has been a key factor in attracting and retaining these students. Latinos are participating more in all aspects of society and remain the largest growing minority group in the country. It is important, then, that educational opportunities be made available to Latinos so that they may continue to become even more productive citizens.

Diversity on college campuses fosters genuine interaction among cultures and ethnicities. For many students this could be the first time they’ve had the opportunity for such a relationship. These experiences promote students’ personal growth by providing new exposure to different backgrounds and viewpoints, and creating opportunities to learn how to interact with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Exposure to a wide population as part of a college experience only enhances a student’s knowledge and understanding of diversity, which will later be beneficial in the workplace. Employers seek diverse candidates because they bring a wide range of knowledge and creativity to a work environment. Embracing diversity in all aspects and forms creates cohesiveness among all people and provides us the tools to live in a diverse world.

Different Worlds on Campus

Danielle Jeanette Ford
Health Sciences major
Class of 2011

Moving eight times and spending most of my years in Naperville, IL, made me realize that I come from a diverse background and have lived in very diverse areas. Because of my upbringing and the experiences in my life, my parents call me “Dynamically Diverse Danielle.”

Diversity is not a simple concept that can be considered in terms of black and white, but contains many areas of grey. I consider that grey area a melting pot full of elasticities, backgrounds, beliefs and goals. I appreciate the fact that all people are different, and I feel we should all act upon and acknowledge, appreciate and respect these differences.

Diversity, to me, is not something to take for granted. Any time you have the opportunity to gain knowledge or to teach someone about your culture or background is a great occasion. I choose to participate in many different organizations and attend events hosted by different groups because I want to learn. Through the years I’ve learned that people who are eager to teach you about themselves are more receptive and interested in understanding someone else. Because of this, I have chosen to surround myself with other individuals who are eager to learn.

As a result, my experience with diversity at Drake University has been unique. I am comfortable in many different worlds. I credit this to my upbringing as well as my thirst for knowledge. I am the president of the black organization on campus (the Coalition of Black Students) and an active member in a historically white sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. I love that I am involved with both of these groups as well as many others. And it’s not until I stop to think about it that I realize not everyone on campus has had the time — or has made the time — to appreciate and explore diversity the way I have. I also realize that, though an appreciation of diversity seems natural to me, it may take effort from others.

I’ve realized that regardless of upbringing, circumstances or the stereotypes that exist, it takes only one situation for someone to become interested or learn about you. Don’t miss this opportunity. I take every chance I have to teach and will never pass up an opportunity to learn. I’m impressed with the efforts Drake University is taking to recognize diversity, but I look forward to the time when it is not an effort but something that happens naturally.

Photo of Sonal KhokhariMore Than Meets the Eye

Sonal Khokhari, ED’08
Teacher, Goodrell Middle School, Des Moines

I have learned through the years that diversity is beyond what we see. We often look at people and assume they come from a certain ethnic background or a certain socioeconomic status. Usually these assumptions are wrong. Des Moines does not have a huge population of Indians like me. When I first went into the classroom as a student-teacher my students assumed I was Hispanic. All the Hispanic students were drawn to me and were interested in finding out more about me because they thought I was just like them. And in a sense, I am. I am a minority, and I face the some of the same challenges they do in life.

The Teacher Quality Program (TQP) at Drake taught me that it doesn’t matter if I am just like my students or not, because the fact is that I am someone important to them. I try to help my students believe they can be like me one day — they can graduate high school, go to college and earn a degree, and they can be successful individuals with a promising future.

The TQP really emphasized how much minority educators need to be in the classroom — not only for the minority students, but also for those who really haven’t been exposed to diversity. My first placement as a student-teacher was in a school with a very low minority population and my second placement was the opposite. My first students were welcoming and loved learning about where I was from and how I was different from them. I thought my second placement would be easier, because the school had such a higher population of minorities. Instead, many of the students questioned me and tested me to see where I came from. It took time for some of them to trust me, while others welcomed me right away because of how I appeared — both like and unlike the students.

I now have my own classroom, and I am learning about diversity within the school every day. Students love to guess what my background is. I once had a conversation with a student who asked if I was black or Hispanic. I replied that I was neither and she asked, “What are you?” This made me realize that sometimes the students’ exposure to different cultures is limited. My students love learning about my culture, and I love learning about theirs, too. I dedicate an entire unit to sharing my culture with the class and then have them do the same.

When I first came to my school I thought it was mostly white, but I learned that many students are of mixed ethnic backgrounds. Being able to share this diversity with my students has helped create a trusting atmosphere that allows students to come to me with concerns or thoughts about many different issues. I have seen how my students have gained culturally awareness and have become interested in learning about new people and cultures. And, like me, they are learning that the eye can only tell us so much about a person.

Finding My Place

Crystal Nance
Public Relations and Sociology double major
Class of 2010

The reality is this: Drake University is a predominantly white institution. Most students, professors and alumni from Drake likely would identify as being white, Caucasian or from European descent.

Diversity was not a major factor in my decision to attend Drake, nor was it something I gave much thought to when applying to other universities. I did not apply to any historically black colleges or universities, so I knew I would not see a large number of people that looked like me on the campus I chose to attend. My goal in attending college was to prepare for a career, and I believed I would be able to find my place at whichever college I attended

At Drake, the place I found for myself, that safe haven where I feel comfortable, has been the Coalition of Black Students (CBS). During Welcome Weekend in 2006 I met some upper class students who were part of CBS. I knew these students understood what it was like to be black in this brand new environment.

I wouldn’t say I experienced culture shock those first weeks at Drake, but it was certainly an adjustment to be one of few students of color in my classes. I have remained a member of CBS mainly because I now know what it was like to make that adjustment, and I wanted to use my leadership skills on the CBS executive board.

Although my time at Drake is coming to an end, I would like to see the University make some changes when it comes to diversity. I would like diversity to be included as part of the First Year Seminar program, and I believe that all classes should include some aspect of diversity and appreciation of difference. I believe that a large number of students come to Drake without much experience with people who are different from themselves. And though they come to campus to get a formal education, learning about diversity along the way would benefit everyone — students and faculty — both professionally and personally.

Photo of Monica NanceDiversity at Drake: 20 Years Ago

Monica Nance, ED’83
Curriculum Coordinator, Kansas City, MO School District

I began my journey of higher education in 1979 on the campus of Drake University. With a tremendous amount of encouragement from my high school counselor, I selected Drake because of its excellent record of providing a stellar education for all who attended. Fortunately I visited campus the summer prior to my freshman year. Being a graduate of the largest school district in the Kansas City, MO, metropolitan area and having attended a predominantly African-American high school, my first feelings about Drake were excitement and hesitation.

I clearly remember my first brush with diversity on campus. It was Don Adams who spoke to many of us in a large room at Olmsted Center. It was obvious that Drake did not have many African American students, but Mr. Adams indicated that our class (the freshman class of 1979) had a large number of African-American students — one of the largest in Drake’s history. It was apparent to me that Drake had spent a significant amount of time, and probably money, recruiting students of color — namely, African-American students. We came from Kansas City, St. Louis, East St. Louis and Chicago, among other areas. Because of what I considered to be an attempt to make diversity a priority, I always felt that this was the place for me.

Being an African-American student on a predominantly white campus I was always surrounded by opportunities to participate in activities that helped me stay grounded. Being a member of the Black Student Organization (now known as the Coalition of Black Students) provided opportunities to celebrate my Blackness and at the same time show other students that we were proud of who we were and what we represented. It is my belief that the leadership of Drake University embraced our organization and continues to ensure its relevance well into the 21st century.

I am reminded of a rally that our organization conducted in response to the apartheid issue in South Africa. I vividly remember many African-American students walking in protest in the early ’80s expressing our insistence that Drake University discontinue investment in businesses in South Africa. I believe that our organization played a large part in the University’s decision to eventually divest.

Now as my daughter, Crystal Nance, graduates from Drake in May, I am reminded of something I used to tell her when she was old enough to understand about my college years. I always told her, “My years at Drake were the best four years of my life.” I would like to think that she feels the same way about her Drake experience as well.

Photo of Brittanie PearsonThe Race for Diversity Left Out Race

Brittanie Pearson
Law, Politics and Society major
Class of 2010

It is true that Drake University is diverse. The University has six colleges, more than 70 majors, 56 countries and 45 states represented. There are 16 different sports teams, 13 sororities and fraternities, and more than 160 student organizations on campus. Drake University has diversity: educational diversity, regional diversity and political diversity. But does that make us diverse?

There is an area where, as a whole, Drake is lacking as an institution. The reality is, Drake is a white school. With more than 78 percent of its student body and nearly 86 percent of its faculty identifying as white, non-Hispanic, people of color are few and far between on campus. That means that at the beginning of each semester, I can feel confident when I walk into my classrooms that most —if not all — of my fellow students, as well as my professors, will look like me. Drake may be diverse in location, sexual orientation and education, but most of us who attend and teach here share the experience of being white.

Moreover white students are allowed not to notice this disparity. In the law, the media, even academia, whiteness is represented everywhere and reinforced in its imagined superiority and validity against all else. Caucasians hold the lead role in most TV programs, even cartoons; take up the most space in newspapers for positive stories; and are the scholars taken seriously in all subjects. White students are conditioned to be comfortable in systemic whiteness, and it is time the University undoes that.

Drake University has a mission to deliver my peers and me an exceptional learning experience that prepares us for global realities and meaningful pursuits — both of which require an awakening to the injustices of our current system. Considering this, the Drake community can no longer ignore race or the lack thereof on campus. It is time for a change. Therefore, I challenge Drake University — its faculty, administration, staff, students and alumni — to become uncomfortable and start demanding racial diversity on campus.

Photo of Prof. Nancy ReinckeWise Diversity (with thanks to Marlene Nourbese Philip)

Nancy Reincke
Associate Professor of English and Director of the Drake University Women’s Studies Program

A wise Latina recently got into trouble for suggesting what should be self-evident — that all of us have different perspectives based on our different identities and experiences in life. Given the history of the United States, Latinas will see some things differently than white men and make different decisions because of this. Sonia Sotomayor said a wise Latina may make “better” decisions than a white man, and that was the focus of the uproar. What got lost in the noise is the question we should always ask: “better for whom?” For more than 200 years, white male Supreme Court justices have made decisions that are better for white men than for other people. Just ask Dred Scott.

My vision is for Drake University to pursue a “wise diversity.” We are charged first and foremost with the goal of transmitting knowledge. As the Enlightenment philosophers knew, free speech from as many different quarters as possible is necessary to discover, if not truth, then at least a solid foundation upon which to make decisions. Many, many more Latinas have studied the words of white men than white men have studied the words of Latinas. We have some balancing to do, and it begins with what we study in our classes.

Many are familiar with the image of the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, each whispering in an ear to influence an individual’s action. I view a “wise diversity” in our curriculum as ultimately providing us with a wise Latina on one shoulder and a white man on the other. Of course, the wise Latina stands in for every perspective that has been historically unheard and undervalued. Her voice is still but a whisper compared to the loud and authoritative voice of the guy who has our ear on the right shoulder. He’s not going to pipe down, nor should he. We all have the right to our voices and views.

We may still need hearing aids to even hear her, but I want Drake to be part of the effort of helping each of us to invite that wise Latina to sit on our left shoulder and help us make better, more balanced decisions — better for ourselves and better for others.

Drake’s increasingly diverse campus

Xian Zhang
Law, Politics, Society and Sociology
Class of 2011

Statistically, Drake is overwhelmingly populated by students of European descent. I have never exactly seen this as an issue, especially since Drake is located in a city founded by French settlers in a country founded by Europeans. However, I have found that Drake takes an active approach to encourage diversity as much as possible, especially in key areas where it matters the most. We have racial, physical and gender diversity and acceptance throughout our faculty, staff and administration. Drake incorporates diversity into its recruitment methods — our representatives travel the globe looking for students. And before new faculty members are hired, the search committee heading the process must produce a statement that proves it reached out to minority candidates. We have many engaging student organizations that celebrate and bring together those from culturally different backgrounds.

Now it is time to take things further. Diversity can exist anywhere, but the real test is whether it can exist and live and breathe without mechanization and people continually propping it up. Natural diversity exists when it has become so innate and common that we no longer need to remember it on a checklist. We need to move on to the next step, where a person’s “diversity” is not just their defining aspect, and we expand our understanding to recognize each individual as diverse in opinion, perspective and background. This breaks down the categories of majority/minority, or white/everything else.

I have always felt a slight discomfort with how distant international students can be from domestic Drake students. It is easy and natural to bond with those from your home country, but Drake needs to help with the next step. Once students have formed a foundation of friends, they should be encouraged to branch out again and again to others who aren’t so familiar. Perhaps a sort of buddy system could be arranged, where an international student could choose to participate and be paired with an American student. No formal requirements would need to exist, but both of the students would have another link to try to understand another perspective on Drake’s increasingly diverse campus.

One Response to “Essays: Further Thoughts on Diversity from the Drake Community”

  1. John Halk (LA’83): It was a long time ago and a lifetime away, but I remember my Drake years fondly. I came from the deep South, I am white and grew up in Shreveport, now reside in Baton Rouge. Look guys and gals, I grew up during integration in the 70s, Louisiana, as you know, has a substantial black population, and in many towns, whites are a minority. I have many black friends and we as a people in the state of Louisiana, realize that we have no choice but to work and get along to survive, in what can be tough times. Drake is in Des Moines, am I still right here?. ITS LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Iowa does not have a minority population; schools with smaller number of minority students try to couch “diversity and struggling to attract people of a different color’ as a stand-in for affirmative action. Drake cost a lot of money to attend and it is in a historically white community. C’mon, does that tell you something?