What three words would you use to describe Lewis & Clark?
Small but mighty.
Describe your job.
As the Interim Director for the office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement (IME), my mission is to do everything in my power to advance the office’s vision: “IME strives towards a college community deeply rooted in realized values of introspection, inclusion, and equity that empowers all students to thrive in the pursuit of their aspirations and in support of one another.” I work directly with Lewis & Clark students to create a place of safety, comfort, and growth for members of underrepresented identities within the campus community and in Portland more broadly. We also coordinate multiple support structures: the Leading to Engage All Pioneers (LEAP) peer mentor program bringing together current students with incoming student;, educational workshops on identity and diversity topics; casual social events; and collaboration with many departments on campus to bring big events to life.
I spend a lot of time not only with the students who are attending Lewis & Clark, but I also utilize the relationships and conversations I have had with them to advocate to make Lewis & Clark as a system a more equitable place to attend, live, and work. I am so immensely passionate about creating spaces that feel like “home” for folks of all identities. When the needs of students at all levels are met, then we can talk about inclusion at the systemic level.
What do you like best about your job?
My favorite thing about working in IME is watching students (and staff members, for that matter) come across a “lightbulb moment” as it relates to their understanding of diversity and inclusion concepts. This occurs in workshops and retreats, but often it is in one-on-one conversations where folks are genuinely wrestling with complex ideas. It is amazing to witness intense moments of growth. Compound that over the few years I am with students on their educational journeys and it can sometimes be overwhelming. I just celebrated graduation with the Class of 2017 which is the first Lewis & Clark cohort that I was able to see from their very first year all the way through commencement. I cannot begin to describe how much my heart was bursting with joy at their collective and individual accomplishments.
What makes Lewis & Clark special?
I love that Lewis & Clark students are invested in creating the best possible experience for students who come after them. I have been able to witness the hard work and dedication of many student leaders who are motivated by giving back to incoming students and ensuring that they leave behind a school that is better than when they arrived. It is truly very inspiring to work alongside these students.
What are the challenges of doing diversity and inclusion work in one of the whitest cities in the United States?
I think there are a couple key challenges doing diversity and inclusion work in one of the whitest cities in the United States, with a painful history of racism statewide. The first is in representation. Since there is not a great critical mass of folks of color around campus, the same students, staff, and faculty continue to get tapped for many things related to diversity. This leads to higher rates of burnout or departure from the institution. One of the most critical aspects of my job is to push every single day to recognize and validate the folks of color around me so that they are always aware of spaces where they feel seen. I think it’s easy to feel like (or actually be) the only person of color in a space for the majority of your daily interactions.
A related challenge to representation is that since the environment is fairly homogenous, daily life can occasionally feel like running on a treadmill. I think sometimes it’s easy for folks to get caught up in what is “normal” and “the typical Lewis & Clark experience” without stopping to ask themselves, “Whose experience is represented here?” and “Whose normal is this?” There are a lot of identity-oriented underpinnings of normalcy and it often leads to exclusionary histories. It is sometimes difficult and exhausting to feel subconsciously different or “othered” a lot of the time.
Where do students of color find community on campus?
One initial way that students of color find support is through attending the Great Expectations overnight retreat designed for incoming first generation students and students of color, which typically takes place in September every year. This weekend getaway brings together folks of these identities to create community and share resources in how to thrive at Lewis & Clark. The students at this retreat then continue to build connections via IME’s LEAP mentor program, which has periodic workshops and social events so that they can continue to support each other.
Around campus, students of color find community in a variety of spaces. Some gravitate to some specific affinity group organizations such as Gente Latina Unida (GLU), Black Student Union (BSU), Asian Student Union (ASU), Mixed LC, Native Student Union (NSU), International Students of Lewis & Clark (ISLC), and Third Culture Kids (TCKs). Others take an intersectional approach, looking for organizations that represent other social identities such as Feminist Student Union (FSU) or Queer Student Union (QSU), amongst many other identity-centered student organizations.
A strong support cohort of students is always built through the Race Monologues writing workshops, which culminates in the Race Monologues event every year in November at the Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies. Other strong cohorts typically solidify around preparation for International Fair in March, and Lu’au in April.
I have also seen tight relationships of students of color within different student leadership spaces such as Resident Advisors, New Student Orientation leaders, Athletics, and various student employee positions. In these spaces, students can connect with peers on multiple levels that are expressive of the various facets of their lives.