November 30, 2011

New center will focus on inclusive excellence

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Chancellor Rita Cheng today (Nov. 30) announced the creation of the Center for Inclusive Excellence at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The new center, housed in Student Life and Intercultural Relations, will focus on inclusive excellence in teaching, research and learning; campus programming; student support; and community relationships.

Its creation was among the recommendations of a 15-member Task Force on Multiculturalism and Diversity appointed by Cheng last spring.  Harvey Welch, retired vice chancellor for student affairs, and Ella Lacey, retired professor of health education, served as task force co-chairs.  Linda McCabe Smith, associate chancellor for institutional diversity, and Peter Gitau, associate vice chancellor and dean of students, served as ex officio leaders of the task force.

“The members of the task force devoted many hours during the spring, summer and early fall to assessing our strengths and weaknesses and to creating a comprehensive approach to enhancing multiculturalism on campus,” Cheng said.  “This new center will be actively engaged in ensuring the success of ethnic minority and international students while also enhancing the quality of life for all students.”

Gitau said the task force concluded that the University offers excellent activities but they are too fragmented. Three existing campus resource centers -- the Black Resource Center, Hispanic Resource Center and GLBT Resource Center -- will become part of the Center for Inclusive Excellence.  The task force’s review of student-run multicultural efforts revealed many minority-serving registered student organizations that are related to academics, as well as several minority-serving Greek organizations active on campus and in the community.

“These organizations serve as support groups or interest groups that offer substantial support and networking for their members,” the executive summary states.  “The Center for Inclusive Excellence would serve an intentional purpose of coordinating, mentoring and connecting the various minority-serving student groups on campus.”

Gitau said the center will not take over other multicultural activities.

 “It doesn’t take away from the independence of other efforts.  Rather, it will be a clearinghouse,” he said

He pointed out that 35 percent of this year’s freshman class is African American, calling SIU Carbondale “the most diverse institution in Illinois.”

“We have a university that has a stake in diversity and we want to imbed that in the very fabric of the institution,” Gitau said.  “We want to raise the level of awareness and have real, critical discourse throughout the university.”

In its executive summary, the task force noted that SIU Carbondale has traditionally welcomed students – many of them first-generation college students – from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.  International students and students of color make up 23.5 percent of the University’s total enrollment.

“Also, retention has not always kept in step with recruitment as the graduation rate for students of color continues to be far below their white counterparts,” the executive summary states.  “Attention to strategies of inclusion must be focused on dealing with an extended mandate incorporating ethnic, racial, gender, sexual, age and physical difference communities.  Diversity must be the preamble to true inclusion, both in the academic realm and in the area of student life.”

The University is in the process of recruiting a full-time director for the center.

“Cultural competency is no longer an option,” Gitau said.  “All of the demographics point to what we call minorities becoming the majority.  We have to examine the ways we provide customer service, we have to understand our clientele.  We are realigning for those realities.”