By Noelle Bernard
Miami University is a public college located in the southwestern Ohio town of Oxford, Ohio. Known for its red bricks, “Public Ivy” status, and married Miami graduates known as “Miami Mergers,” poet Robert Frost once called it “the most beautiful college there is.”
Miami has a student population of roughly 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students, with the largest percentage being Caucasian students. As of fall 2010, the university enrolled 14,686 undergraduates. 12,271 students were Caucasian, 602 African American, 349 Hispanic/Latino, 389 Asian, 70 American Indian and 114 multi-racial.
The enrollment numbers are not uncommon for historically white institutions across the country, but Miami has taken significant strides to combat the staggering statistics.
The university has services that target multicultural and international students, women, students with disabilities, and the GLBTQ community.
The Office of Diversity Affairs (ODA) provides resources for education and programming to bring awareness and inclusion for everyone, says Gerald Yearwood, Senior Director of the ODA.
“When you allow people to understand not only diversity but also inclusion and difference, you basically have to educate people into understanding that no one’s the same,” Yearwood said. “Everyone’s different in their own way. We have to be accepting of that, which is something that our society does not do.”
The foundation of ODA is to reach diverse students represented by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic statuses, and expose their experiences to the remaining majority.
As soon as a first-year student arrives on campus the ODA exposes them to various organizations that challenge stereotypes and misconceptions. One important first-year program is [email protected] This program gives incoming students from diverse backgrounds an exclusive glimpse into the Miami culture three days before regular move-in.
“I always tag it as a three-day boot camp where students are allowed to learn as much as they can about how to navigate Miami University,” Yearwood said. “It gives them an opportunity to integrate with other students, both students of color and with students who are not of color. They form friendships and different ideologies in terms of how they can grow and develop over time.”
Through ODA, GLBTQ services are readily available to increase knowledge and support for the GLBTQ community.
Workshops, lectures, and events are established during each semester where all students and staff can participate through groups such as Spectrum, GLEAM, and Haven.
Moreover, ODA has a student faction from the university’s Associated Student Government (ASG) called The Diversity Affairs Council (DAC). The council is an alliance of student organizations that raise issues regarding the university’s cultural climate to boost the presence of diversity.
Beyond Miami’s Office of Diverse Affairs, the university created the Women’s Center to meet the needs of women on campus.
“The formal mission statement is to advance women’s full participation and success as students and global citizens through educational programs, leadership opportunities, and support and advocacy services that engage students with women and gender issues and foster women’s personal and professional development,” said Rhonda Jackson, Administrative Assistant at the Women’s Center.
The Center promotes leadership and empowerment by training several female students to become Student Ambassadors for the university.
“They are charged to take leadership roles within organizations, agencies and institutions within or throughout the university,” Jackson said. “They also take a leadership role in advocating for women’s rights, women’s equality and equal access for women into careers, and post-higher education experiences.”
Participation and open discussions are key to the Center’s success. The essential message is to give females at Miami an opportunity to vocalize their needs and empower them to fight for equality and access.
“All individuals regardless of how they identify, whether it’s male, female, transgender, bisexual, pansexual, or whatever, should have equal rights,” Jackson said. “There should not be this patriarchal system that has manifested itself throughout our American history of men having more privilege, more access, and being paid more money than women for doing the same amount of work.”
The Center is an open space for women to express their views and learn how to conquer issues paramount to female health and life. Yet many wonder why women have a center devoted exclusively to their needs and not men.
“The reason there isn’t a men’s center is because it’s an access issue,” Jackson said. “Men have historically had access and privilege that women have not had.”
It offers a quiet space for studying and a place to communicate. But counseling services are not available. Instead, the center acts as a triage to streamline access for those seeking immediate help.
“We try to have students understand that you need to have absolute balance in your life and taking on more and more is not necessarily always the best,” Jackson said. “It might look good on a resumé but it may be detrimental to your health and college experience.”
Furthermore, in recent years Miami has shown increased commitment toward providing equal opportunities for all students and employees, including people with disabilities. The Office of Disability Resources (ODR) works to ensure accessibility for everyone attending or working at the university.
ODR provides educational services, accommodations and numerous resources to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and a part of the Miami community, says Andrew Zeisler, Director of the Office of Disability Resources and the Associate Director of the Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity.
“The inclusion and diversity that we promote is that everybody should feel welcome on campus,” Zeisler said.
ODR works with individuals who have physical, mental, psychiatric, and neurological disabilities. They follow the guidelines established by federal laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Amendments of 2009.
On campus the ODR is most recognized for promoting the renovation of all buildings for updated accessibility projects, called the “Miami Makeover.”
“The good thing about accessibility is it benefits all. Not everybody can use the stairs or front door,” Zeisler said. “But everybody can use a ramped entrance, including people with strollers, [the] elderly and people who have rolling book bags.”
The focal point for ODR is to include individuals with disabilities into the university community by educating faculty, staff, and peers about the significance of multiple life experiences.
“If you don’t have a disability, eventually you may [because] that’s the way our bodies operate, they break down as we get older,” Zeisler said. “We may have an accident that might leave us disabled. So the more we understand now and the more we do now in that area, the easier it will be for everybody.”
But as Miami strives to increase diversity, recent graduate Tim Lu worries that the university is focusing too heavily on diversifying race.
“Sometimes I will take on the belief that we’re doing so much that it’s actually over-creating this barrier that we’re trying to correct,” Lu said. “We spend so much talking about how there’s not enough diversity here and everyone associates that with race. Maybe the underlining problem with diversity is that it’s gender, religion, and other things too.”
Lu’s parents are immigrants from the Philippines; he is also half-Chinese. Throughout his Miami experience, Lu has been a first-year orientation leader, a Resident Assistant, a member of Miami’s Hip-Hop Dance Crew, and active in the Christian organization Campus Crusade for Christ.
Lu supports the university’s diversity efforts, but believes achieving increased diversity will take time.
“The university is doing everything they can. The problem is not the solution we’re chasing. I don’t honestly have the answer,” said Lu. “I’m trying to play my role as best as I can.”