As the University of Redlands recruits a senior diversity and inclusion officer, following the recommendation of consultant Jesús Garcia Treviño, Ph.D., a team of four is working collaboratively to advance previously established priorities in Campus Diversity and Inclusion (CDI). Katie Olson of the Bulldog Blog recently sat down with this team—Interim Director of Diversity Initiatives Monique Stennis, Interim Assistant Director Peter Tupou, Graduate Assistant Magdalena Sanchez ’22, and Office Assistant Javier Garcia ’20—to talk about their work this summer, programs during Student Orientation, and hopes for the coming school year.
Bulldog Blog: Does your team have a name?
Monique Stennis: In meetings, our team has been referred to as “Diversity Initiatives”—it’s not an official name change, just an easy way to reference us.
Peter Tupou: I think of Campus Diversity and Inclusion as the space, and Diversity Initiatives as a different perspective we’re bringing to what we’re doing.
Bulldog Blog: So you’re like a task force?
Tupou: Yes, we’re the Justice League!
Bulldog Blog: Do you have a mission?
Tupou: Our mission is to honor what has been done in the past and to build on that by being creative in how we address new challenges. My work with Jesús [Treviño] was very informative for seeing how past structures weren’t sustainable. If anything, we have more of an emphasis on community building, and want to nurture relationships with people on campus so we don’t work in silos. That’s what we’re focused on, applying that approach to existing and new programs.
Stennis: While the leadership of CDI is in transition, there is still a lot we can do to continue to celebrate diversity and help everyone on campus feel welcome.
Bulldog Blog: What new initiatives and programs have you built over the summer?
Tupou: There’s a new interfaith initiative that has to do with religious diversity and pluralism. It’s a joint effort with Student Affairs, CDI, Chaplain’s Office, and Religious Studies. We realized a lot of issues in the United States have to do with religious diversity—there’s Islamophobia; there’s anti-Semitism. This initiative is trying to address those challenges.
Stennis: We also are partnering with the Associated Students of University of Redlands in programming similar to its Convocations and Lectures Series. There are opportunities to honor our diversity in other ways; for example, on Friday, October 11th, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., we will celebrate National Coming Out Day with a campus-wide celebration in front of the commons.
Tupou: These initiatives are about spreading awareness throughout campus. Diversity happens everywhere, and so the work of equity and inclusion should happen everywhere, meaning the onus is not solely on CDI.
Bulldog Blog: How else does CDI serve students?
Javier Garcia: There are multiple communities on campus, and they all have different needs and require different resources. I’ve always advocated for first-generation student programming, because it has had such an impact on my life. Programming for first-generation students—one of the largest populations on campus—includes Summer Bridge, Students Together Empowering Peers (STEP), and I’m Going to College (IGTC), which helps students from local elementary schools visit college campuses, allowing them to get a feeling of the college experience. The Student of Color Recognition Ceremony at Commencement recognizes diverse populations, as do the annual dinners we host for students, such as the Eid dinner and Dwali dinner. CDI programs carry students from before their first year all the way to graduation.
Tupou: Our programming is geared toward traditionally vulnerable and marginalized populations, but we’re also serving students who can be allies and appreciate peoples’ differences. We are better together. There’s so much hurt and pain in the world, and we believe our students will be global citizens and agents of change.
Magdalena Sanchez: The thing that drives my work is connecting the campus to the community. At least one piece of the quilt of the University should connect to some aspect of each student’s identity. I’m here to make those connections and make sure they’re sustainable.
Bulldog Blog: Tell me about your event during New Student Orientation’s Plaza Palooza on Friday night.
Tupou: Plaza Palooza is usually a big spectacle with loud music and a lot going on. Some people enjoy it, but others may not. We wanted to think about what, perhaps, an introvert might enjoy, while incorporating aspects of cultural appreciation.
Stennis: There were a number of stations, each one with something different—mandalas, Adinkra symbols from Africa, piñatas, salsa dancing, and world music. We hope these activities provided an introduction to various interests for students to build on in the future.
Garcia: At the end of orientation, I had a table called Listening for Change, where students could just come and talk—whether they wanted to get something off their chest, or just have someone’s undivided attention after a long, hectic week.
Bulldog Blog: What was your goal for the event?
Tupou: I wanted to help students who were curious about CDI to find out more. And I wanted to encourage them to come back.
Stennis: I wanted students to know that they have a place on campus and that, if they have something they want to bring to the table, they can.
Bulldog Blog: Aside from recruiting a senior diversity officer, what are your hopes for the coming year?
Garcia: I want to win students’ trust, and I hope this space becomes a favorite place for students.
Tupou: We’re here to listen and guide students. I’m looking forward to building relationships with all the new students on campus. At the end of the year, if we’ve helped students be successful, that will be our success, too.
Learn more about Campus Diversity and Inclusion and programs scheduled for the 2019-20 academic year.