A look at the Diversity Department

In July of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the landmark Civil Rights Act which outlawed racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious discrimination and desegregated schools.  48 years later, racism and sexism are still problems across the country, but they’re becoming less of an issue here at Bellevue College as diversity takes the spotlight in public dialogue.

While diversity has been a major goal and process at the college for quite some time, BC has experienced a substantial push for cultural and ethnic pluralism in both the student body and staff over the last several months.

“Diversity is really helpful to the college because it brings diversity of thought, diversity of multiple experiences, it creates a more robust learning environment,” says Yoshiko Harden, BC’s vice president of diversity hired on last July.  Many students come from homogenous backgrounds, and the college campus is often their first exposure to different economic and racial groups.  “Being in touch with different human experiences” makes for a broader and more complete education.

Harden believes some of the biggest challenges to having a diverse college community are an uninviting atmosphere and campus racism.  “Indifference is a form of being unwelcome. Unless you’re explicit and intentional, what are you?”  The diversity office is working to make the campus more positively accepting, and is also working on educating the faculty to attempt to reduce implicit bias in the hiring process.  Unintentional, unconscious bias, says Harden, is a more sinister form of racism because it’s harder to recognize.

Harden isn’t alone in advocating and working towards more diversity though.  The thrust for cultural and ethnic pluralism on campus has taken a variety of forms and come from many sources.  During the open presidential forums last week for example, a number of student questions ranged across a variety of topics related to minority groups.

Not everyone has been a fan of the movement however.  One student who wished to remain anonymous said, “Personally, I think the whole diversity thing is overblown.”  There is also a concern from some white students that new policies might give preference to minority students, constituting a sort of reverse-racism in reaction to a problem they don’t see as a real issue.

Harden says it’s easy to not see the issues if you’re part of the dominant group.  “That’s how privilege operates – you don’t have to engage or recognize those things because that’s not your group or you’re not perceived to be that group.”

Regardless of support or criticism, BC is continuing to become a more diverse college.  Our campus currently has over 1,700 international students, 1,600 running start students, and approximately a third of the student population identifying as Asian, Hispanic, or Latino – a number that was as low as 11% as recently as 1990.

For information on Bellevue College’s diversity policy or to report a hate crime or case of discrimination, Yoshiko Harden is available in the President’s office, or can be reached at (425) 5645-2300, or through email at yoshiko.harden@bellevuecollege.edu.