Office of Equity and Pluralism in action

Yoshiko Harden 1“Bellevue College values a learning and working environment through its commitments to support a campus environment that is diverse, inclusive, open, safe and accessible; to model a college community that affirms and embodies pluralism and values collaboration and shared decision making; and to honor and practice sustainability, creativity and innovation.” These core values are posted on BC’s website. Posters from programs and clubs targeted at specific culture groups plaster the bulletin boards, advertising meetings and events. Each classroom comes with a sign declaring that no student shall be discriminated against. Yet during this year at BC alone, the El Centro Latino resource center and the Latin American Culture Club released a statement about the Hispanic community on campus feeling unsupported by faculty on campus, a YouTube video surfaced of a confrontation between a black and a white student and at least one student identifying as part of the LGBTQ community filed several reports of assault.

Yoshiko Harden, vice president of diversity, senses a problem. “I think what people are seeing, and rightly so, that it’s hypocritical, that we hear this language, ‘this is what we believe in, this is who we are’ but then you don’t necessarily visibly see the actions to support it. We’re saying one thing and doing another thing. And I think key to that is [we at BC] have to stop seeing things as isolated individual incidents.”

“My primary role is, first of all, to convene folks and look at things at a macro level…from a diversity and inclusion lens,” said Harden, who has been BC’s VP of diversity for eight months. Ensuring that historically marginalized groups, including both students and faculty members, are represented and respected is a key part of her job. Harden also advises both the president of the college and the vice presidents of other departments on how to make her vision for diversity and inclusion come to light. “My goal is for folks, when they think of Bellevue College, to think, ‘They’re a hub and they’re really strong around diversity and inclusion efforts. I want to send my daughter, son, niece, nephew there, because I know they’re getting a good education.’”

Harden and the entire Office of Equity and Pluralism have been working to accomplish this goal. Recently, the Office of Equity and Pluralism made pluralism training mandatory for those who wish to serve on a hiring panel. According to Harden, more than 300 employees have now gone through the pluralism training,

which Harden hopes will improve the hiring practices of the college. However, Harden recognizes the challenges and limitations of diversity training: “The problem with trainings, and some research supports this, is most trainings do little to change behavior…it does improve awareness around issues…but it does little to impact, in this case, implicit bias. So for example, if I think something about a certain group, I might have been through a training to become more aware of stereotypes I hold, but I’m still more likely to default to my stereotype, which is why stereotypes are so difficult to disrupt.”

Harden wants to change the conversation around diversity: “Part of this is seeing it as expert knowledge and something that’s studied, it’s researched, it’s empirical, it’s data-driven. It’s not food, fun and famous people. It’s not about potlucks and fashion shows. That’s not going to get us closer to the institution we say we want to be. It just keeps it on the surface.”

Upcoming events from the Office of Equity and pluralism include Critical Conversations on Feb. 15, “Women of Color and White Women in the Academy” on Feb. 19 and two speakers, Dr. J. Goosby Smith on Feb. 20 and Dr. Jared Ball on Feb. 26, for Black History Month.

She finished by saying: “Racism is really white people’s problem. It just manifests itself in people of color. Sexism is really men’s problem. It just shows up via women. Homophobia is really heterosexual people’s problem. We make it the problem.”