October 2016 Newsletter: Provost Update – Our Differences Make Us Strong

Fusion Network's "As American As" national campus tour at San Jose State University in San Jose, CA, on Thursday, October 6, 2016. (Photo: Christina Olivas/San Jose State University)

Fusion Network’s “As American As” national campus tour at San Jose State University in San Jose, CA, on Thursday, October 6, 2016. (Photo: Christina Olivas/San Jose State University)

During homecoming week, many of you may have seen an interactive exhibit outside the Student Union on the Seventh Street Paseo. The walls of the “As American As…” display, sponsored by the Office of Diversity,Equity and Inclusion, depicted photographs of many people from different backgrounds and described them all as American. The larger-than-life piece created a maze of sorts in the middle of our campus for students, staff, faculty and community members to walk through as they considered how the portraits displayed disparities while the words reinforced their similarities.

When students, staff, faculty and members of the public engage at San Jose State University, they all become Spartans. We are strong because of our differences, and we are part of a diverse community that is striving to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all. I am pleased to have our new Chief Diversity Officer Kathy Wong(Lau), who oversees the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as a partner in our ongoing efforts. She has already begun to lead discussions around tough issues such as sexual harassment and sexual assault, hate speech versus freedom of speech and how to foster cognitive empathy so that people can have a difference of opinion while still understanding the perspectives of others.

As Provost, I am proud to be part of a multi-faceted campus community. SJSU was ranked No.14 among the most ethnically and racially diverse four-year public universities in the United States and No. 1 for highest international student enrollment at a master’s granting university by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Our diversity makes us strong, and we need to leverage that strength as we improve student success. We are making strides with underrepresented minority students through our African American andLatinx/Chicanx Student Success Task Forces. Our identity-based resources such as the PRIDE Center, the MOSAIC Multicultural Center, Military and Veteran Student Services and others have a centralized space in the newly renovated Student Union. We are devoting funding this year to establish an Immigrant Welcome Center that will support our undocumented students.

But we still have work to do to make meaningful changes in our graduation rates and to eliminate the achievement gap between underrepresented minority students and their peers by 2025. Research has shown that underrepresented students perform better in courses taught by diverse faculty for a variety of reasons including relevancy of experiences and perspectives in translating conceptual ideas, inclusion in curricular content at macro and micro levels, higher use of interactive pedagogies, role-modeling and approachability. As with many public universities, our faculty does not reflect the perspectives, experiences, and same diverse proportions that make up our student body. I am working closely with Dr. Wong(Lau) to identify immediate measures and to create a long-term plan to ensure we recruit the best candidates from a diversified pool of applicants and build capacity amongst all of our faculty to educate all of our students.

Dr. Wong(Lau) along with Shawn Spano, hosted the first “Conversation on Campus Climate” in September. I encourage you to attend the second “Conversation on Campus Climate” on Nov. 21, from 10 a.m. to noon, in the Diaz Compean Student Union Theater, when participants will help identify actions we need to take to make our campus more inclusive and welcoming. If you are unable to attend in person, share your insights with her via email to diversityoffice@sjsu.edu.

Other events include The Peter Lee Memorial Lecture Series on Nov. 7, from noon to 1:15 p.m., in the Student Union Theater, with a lecture by Dr. Janet Bennett, executive director of the Intercultural Communications Institute on “Intersecting Pathways: Global Diversity and Inclusion”; Faculty Intergroup Dialogue Facilitation and Inclusive Pedagogy Institute on Dec. 2, (location and time to be determined); and through Dec. 1 the “Photovoice Exhibit on Anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia” will be on exhibit at the MLK library. This exhibit features the photonarrative work of Ed Mamary, a professor in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts Department of Health Science and Recreation.

We are all partners in creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment on our campus. I look forward to continuing our work together this year.

Andy Feinstein
Provost and VP for Academic Affairs