EWU to eliminate Office of Diversity and Inclusion, consolidate all ethnic departments

By Karlee Van De Venter, Reporter

Along with university-wide budget cuts, EWU’s Board of Trustees decided to eliminate the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and consolidate all ethnic departments. This was announced to all students and employees in an email from EWU president Mary Cullinan on March 6. 

The email outlined EWU’s plans for this change:

“The university is recommitting its resources to: 

  • Increase support for our students through strong alignment of the Multicultural Center and Pride Center with the organizations and support services in Student Affairs.
  • Increase support for faculty and university leadership through effective and ongoing communication, guidance, and coaching. 
  • Ensure that all of us as faculty, staff, and administrators have the skills and knowledge to ensure our classrooms, offices, and campuses are optimal places for the wide diversity of students in 2020 and beyond.” 

The email mentioned that the reorganization is meant to support inclusion in all areas of the university. Starting July 1, directors of the Multicultural Center and the Pride Center will be working under the vice president of Student Affairs, instead of the vice president of Diversity and Inclusion. Their work location remains the same. The senior director for Diversity and Inclusion will work for the human resources department, training and designing a “Search Advocates program.” 

“The Multicultural Coalition needs a professional of color to represent and advocate for us within the highest level of EWU’s administration,” -Facebook post from the Multicultural Coalition of EWU

There is also a new position beginning in Academic Affairs, the associate vice provost of Equity and Inclusion, which will address culture and diversity within classroom settings. To fill this position, a search committee has been formed within Academic Affairs. 

But with these changes means the three-year-old Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be terminated at the end of this quarter. It seems as though vice president of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Shari Clarke, will have the same fate. 

In response to these changes, the Multicultural Coalition of Eastern Washington University started a movement called “SPACE for Diversity.” SPACE stands for Students Protesting Against Consolidating Education. The movement started a petition that currently has over 1,000 signatures. 

SPACE is asking for a reversal of the aforementioned actions, and that each director of diverse programs be granted a memorandum of understanding recognizing them as department chairs. This way, the directors keep autonomy of their program. Along with the petition is a full explanation of what the Multicultural Coalition of EWU is expecting from EWU administration, and reasoning behind each expectation. 

“The student body wants to keep diversity departments separate to reinforce the retention and recruitment of diverse faculty and staff,” the explanation says. “Different marginalized and/or underrepresented communities have different needs. Consolidating the diverse programs under one faculty member will homogenize the approach to cultural learning.” 

Grace Pohl

The Multicultural Coalition of EWU has multiple social media platforms, which have been promoting their expectations from administration. One of their Facebook posts breaks down Cullinan’s original email, responding to each point with concerns. 

One of their concerns is with the new position created by Cullinan. They think the funds required for creating and paying for this new position would be better spent on retaining Dr. Clarke and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. 

“The Multicultural Coalition needs a professional of color to represent and advocate for us within the highest level of EWU’s administration,” the post says. “We are concerned that the person you hire will be appointed without diverse student input, instead of hired externally, leaving the student body disenfranchised from the process and uneasy about the appointee’s subsequent work.” 

Students and faculty have been noticing the social media presence of the Multicultural Coalition. Many students commented saying they didn’t even realize this was going on due to the amount of emails the university has been sending this quarter. 

One member of the Advisory Council for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Larry Valadez, commented on a Facebook post about his frustrations with EWU administration. 

Members of EWU’s Black Student Union, Africana Studies Department and other Eastern students advocated race and diversity education on campus through a protest held on Nov. 3. (Photo contributed by Rahel Wondimu)

“I have yet to hear anything directly from the EWU administration … all of my information has come to me second-hand,” Valadez’s comment said. 

The Multicultural Coalition of EWU has been gathering student video protests to post and send to administration. They also have templates for emails that students can send to President Cullinan and/or all EWU administration. Another post responded to President Cullinan’s email about Black Lives Matter, calling the message hypocritical. 

Many students have voiced concerns for the future of the university. Since the Office of Diversity and Inclusion began, the school has won the award for Higher Education Excellence in Diversity. Programs have grown, more students felt heard and administration often mentions that EWU is the number one university in the state for diversity. 

Some students wonder if they will be awarded the same awards and recognition when diverse programs are consolidated. They wonder if a new position that has less administrative power will be able to represent student needs. They wonder if the many underrepresented communities on EWU’s campus will suffer because of these changes.