“Our leaders, who we look up to, are leaving,” Fijian-American student Vishal Nair said. “Where are we supposed to go? Are we supposed to follow them?”
Nair said recent departures by faculty and staff of color have left him wondering what resources he has if the people he feels most comfortable with are unseen on campus or have left.
While other faculty and staff of color have been recruited, students like Nair have a harder time seeking support in the wake of the resignations.
Through a women’s studies class panel this year, Nair met former ODE administrative assistant Roslyn Leon Guerrero who said she left because she felt her voice wasn’t heard.
“What she told us sparked something in me where I was like ‘okay she’s gone, so someone else needs to do something. So I need to do something,’” he said, but he wondered whether his voice would be heard either.
Summer Brown, Clark’s only counselor of color, resigned this year, making the Counseling and Health Center feel less welcoming to students like Nair. He said he can’t imagine a white person fully understanding the struggles and racism he faces.
Employee Resource Groups, which are created and run by the participating faculty, were an outlet for Brown. She said Clark set aside time for her to participate, but helping with the ERG while maintaining her full-time counselor position, part-time private practice, teaching in the Human Development department and fulfilling other obligations like community projects made her workload unbalanced.
“I can’t speak to the experience of a white faculty or staff member,” Brown said. “But I don’t feel like the amount of time and effort to find affiliation and to find support in community is that same way.”
She said that while attending the Washington State Faculty and Staff of Color Conference last year, she realized diversity was not present at Clark.
Numbers say one thing, Brown said, but the community doesn’t reflect it and she asked “If you think about the last year of your classes here at Clark, how many other students of color have been in your class?”
She said this disparity in community was part of why she left, but bias and campus politics, the dynamics of how decisions are made, had a role too.
“Everyone is not treated equally,” Brown said. “People are going to bring their experiences and their biases and their perspectives on things … and there’s not always an effort to move away from those biases and create and maintain a place that’s safe for everybody.”
Brown said she’s staying on campus as an HDEV instructor because she wants students to have experiences with instructors of color. Without that experience, “You’re probably going to walk away with the same biases that you came in with,” she said. “If I had the same kinds of support within the college system here as my white counterparts and if there wasn’t an expectation or bias around my identity as a black person, things would be different.”
A new hire will fill former faculty of color Dolly England’s position as ODE manager of employee outreach and retention on July 1.
England declined an interview about her resignation, but said in an email that “Clark has left me feeling bruised and beaten and I will need a significant amount of time before I am willing to talk about it. Trauma is no joke.”
Former ODE Director of Student Inclusion and Equitable Services Felisciana Peralta is also staying as an HDEV instructor. Peralta said she felt an unbalance too, but primarily felt an unhealthy relationship within Clark.
“I felt like I was no longer going to be able to support the college in moving forward the social equity plan,” she said. “I no longer feel like I had a voice in a lot of things.”
Currently, Peralta also works as Mt. Hood Community College’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion where, she said, she feels less alone and more supported.
At Clark, she said, she felt she wasn’t being a good role model for students.
“I teach students to feel motivated and to feel valued and respected,” she said, noting she didn’t feel those things and wasn’t modeling her own lessons.
Clark College President Bob Knight said while several well known faculty and staff of color have left, he doesn’t believe Clark lacks diversity.
“People are buying into this false narrative that we’re losing more people of color than we’re getting but it’s absolutely not true,” Knight said.
Knight said that in the last several months, 14 of Clark’s 39 new hires were people of color. He said the Pacific Northwest is less diverse than most areas, complicating the hiring process. Knight said the college sends its applications to minority advocacy groups and doesn’t let a hiring pool move forward unless 25 percent of it is people of color. He said the college’s goal is to mirror local demographics, but “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
ODE’s Associate Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Loretta Capeheart said the college is far from having a diverse enough staff. She said Clark is losing employees of all demographics at the same rate but “The impact of losing faculty and staff of color is more severe because we’re trying to build in that area.”
Capeheart said she recognizes the effect that lacking a diverse staff has on students and that it’s important to infuse awareness of power privilege and inequity into all classrooms.
She said she and her office support making every corner of campus safe and listening to every voice. Though she doesn’t believe Clark will ever reach the right amount of diversity, she said, people are willing to try.
“I’ve not found resistance to this work,” Capeheart said. “This campus, I think, is ready to do this work.”