Students voice opinions about diversity

Students given safe space to discuss experiences


Students had the opportunity to voice their thoughts, opinions and experiences at the public event, “Being Black in Ellensburg.” The event created a safe space for students, faculty, staff and community members to share their stories.

Cassandra Hays, Scene Editor

On Feb. 19, black students, faculty, staff and community members had the opportunity to come together to share their stories, thoughts and experiences about life on campus and in the Ellensburg community.

The “Being Black in Ellensburg” event was a public discussion put on by the Museum of Culture and Environment in conjunction with the Diversity and Equity Center (DEC) and CWU’s Africana and Black Studies (ABS) program. The purpose of the event was to discuss several important questions: what does it feel like to be a minority in a mostly white, rural community such as Ellensburg? What do effective networks of support look like, and how can Ellensburg residents pro- mote a culture of inclusivity?

Throughout the event, 15 different words were displayed on a projector located at the front of the room, including “Belonging,” “Education,” “Representation,” “Culture” and “Change.” Students, faculty and staff got the chance to share their thoughts and experiences related to these words. Those who did not wish to speak were able to write their thoughts down anonymously on provided notecards.

Dr. Masonya Bennett is an ABS professor. She discussed why it is important for people of color to have a safe space to share their experiences, particularly in a rural town like Ellensburg.

“The students…are constantly search- ing for safe spaces, for representation, because it is a different experience,” Dr. Bennett said. “If you come from a place like Tacoma or Seattle you have access to other people that look like you, or I should say you’re used to seeing people who look like you. And then you come here and that sort of shapes your experience.”

Dr. Bennett added that black people in Ellensburg are the minority, with only about 1.5 percent of residents being black. She said she rarely sees black students off campus, which made her question what kind of experiences they were having. She added that having a safe space to share those experiences is necessary to foster an environment of inclusiveness.

“I just think that representation is important and inclusion is important and [we need] a place where students and faculty and staff…can feel welcomed and not feel like an outsider,” Dr. Bennett said.

There were many common concerns expressed by multiple students during the discussion. Several people commented that they often feel uncomfortable in Ellensburg, particularly downtown. One student discussed constantly feeling the need to be conscious of how he is being perceived by others in the community. Several others agreed, adding that most of the time they don’t feel as if they belong here.

Another concern brought up during the discussion was the need for more people of color within CWU faculty. One student pointed out that after three years attending CWU, she had not had a black instructor.

“I should see someone that looks like me daily,” the student said.

She went on to say that it is important for students of color to have role models and mentors who look like them to look up to. One proposed solution was to have a diversified pool of students involved in the search committees that choose faculty members. Students pointed out that many people of color are qualified to teach at CWU, but more effort needs to go into finding and hiring those people.

Another issue brought up was that CWU lacks places to gather with people of your culture. The DEC was recently moved from the SURC to Black Hall, which raised concerns among the students, staff and faculty involved. Moving the DEC away from the place where students are meant to gather “felt like a slap in the face,” according to one student. It was expressed that CWU should work harder to provide safe spaces and promote diversity across campus without being asked.

Students commented that CWU usually waits for “diversity months” such as Black History Month to celebrate culture, but more effort should be made towards promoting inclusivity all year long.

President Gaudino and Ken Wade, Ellensburg Police Chief attended the event. Chief Wade said he wants to take action and make moves towards a more inclusive and equal environment in Ellensburg, but he needs to hear the opinions and experiences of minority students in order to make that happen.

“We’ll never be successful without your guys’ help,” Chief Wade said.

Gaudino acknowledged the concerns expressed by students in regards to hiring and recruiting more people of color as well as the relocation of the DEC. He wants to listen to the concerns of minority students and continue to find solutions to promote diversity and a feeling of inclusivity across campus, but it won’t happen overnight. He compared the process to “pushing a really heavy ball up a hill,” to which students responded that they want to push that ball with him. Several students pointed out that a number of promises have been made to promote diversity and a feeling of belonging on campus, but actual action needs to be taken. People in positions of power and privilege need to be the ones to promote that change and take action.

“You can’t go to the oppressed to fix their oppression,” one student commented.

Those who attended the event are committed to creating change in Ellensburg and on the CWU campus for generations to come. Students said that a sure way to promote change and inclusivity is to continue to educate one another. While attending the discussion and listening to the concerns of students, faculty and staff is a good first step, the only way to make a real difference is to take action within the community.