Community Talks About Diversity on Campus

Kathryn Canavan, Reporter

Amy Lahart, Dean of Students, and Kit Foley, Vice President of Student Affairs, are reaching out to students and faculty in search of answers to the issue of campus diversity.

Students and faculty have become intrigued by recent talk about making campus more diverse. Lahart and Foley have directed several talks, inviting students and faculty to offer ideas on  how they perceive diversity, define it, and how they feel the community can create a more diverse institution.

Lahart said diversity is an important issue in her personal and professional lives.

“From a personal perspective, diversity for me is an understanding, an appreciation for, an inclusiveness for people who have unlike backgrounds, or unlike ethnic traits.”

Diversity is a very broad topic, and it can be inclusive of race – and many other differences, said Lahart. It can include gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability and religious background.

“I think the disadvantage that I feel, what we hear from students, and what we hear from groups that say we aren’t diverse is because, typically, that’s attached to race. So we are a predominantly white community, and there are people who think we are not diverse because we cannot visually see whether or not we are diverse.  That’s certainly a component of diversity, but when you talk about the broad perspective of diversity, you’re also talking about economic diversity, ethnicity, and ethnicity is not something we can always see,” said Lahart.

As Dean of Students and as a Business professor, Lahart believes diversity enables students to see the world through many lenses.

“As it relates to my job and being involved in higher education, what I think diversity is, it’s allowing for students in the higher educational system to interact and have exposure to different types of cultures, people, and different opportunities for them to broaden the way they view the world,” said Lahart.

Maria Cabrera, Multicultural Student Outreach Coordinator, believes simply being with a diverse group of people can expand students’  horizons and bring together groups of people who normally would not have any relationship.

“My personal definition of diversity is the differences between people that makes us all unique and the commonalities that brings us together. My job basically deals with all things multicultural from programming, to workshops, to student involvement. I deal with diversity every day,” said Cabrera.

While the university is predominately white, faculty and staff argue that they have taken steps to advocate for diversity. One of  step is multicultural educational programs, which include TRUTH talks, cultural holiday celebrations and the Multicultural Club, which Cabrera heads,

“In their meetings they talk about different awareness events that they do on campus. They have different service opportunities that they volunteer their time for. These opportunities usually involve a diverse group of organizations,” said Cabrera.

While the club is active on campus, students usually only see what they can see with their eyes.

“Misericordia doesn’t seem to have that much diversity, at least not in the traditional sense, but there are differences we can’t see. We have people who come from different backgrounds, and different places,” said first year occupational therapy major Jamie Fechnay.

Lahart said diversity has been a factor in decision-making since the founding of the university, which is why Lahart believes it should remain a critical concern.

“[Its purpose] from its inception, was to educate the coal miner’s daughters of Pennsylvania, and then [it was] a women’s college.  So I think over the years, as we have diversified –  because we have, we added men – we have more diversity than what I think people are aware of,” said Lahart.

First year speech language pathology major Ashley Hobbs believes the atmosphere is beneficial to achieving more diversity because everyone is willing to see a change.

“At our school, I think it’s a very safe and nurturing environment for everyone’s difference. Everyone is really respectful and tolerant,” said Hobbs.

First year occupational therapy major Brianne Font said achieving diversity is a challenge, but one that can be overcome with a little work.

“In my own words, diversity is coming to the realization that everyone is different, and that there are differences we have to accept among everyone, whether that be race or ethnicity,” said Font.

“I think it affects all of us,” Lahart said.  “With those ethnicities come different types of cultures, and with those cultures comes different types of norms for what that culture allows for, so I don’t think it hurts us, I think it’s who we are as an institution.  We are, I think, much more diverse than some people have the perception that we are,” said Lahart.

Lahart believes the school will make progress with the help of faculty and students.

“Can we do more? Can we increase the opportunities for students to do that? Misericordia wants to continue to strive for [this], because the underlying reason we want to do this is to create more and more experiences for students to be able to broaden that view,” said Lahart.