Forum addresses minority trials navigating majority-white campus

Staff and faculty members Juni Banerjee-Stevens, left, Maurice Bryan, Prisca Ngondo, Pedro Douglas and Tracy Butts discuss challenges they face as minorities on the Chico State campus. Photo credit: Brittany Mcclintock

The spring 2015 Conversations on Diversity and Inclusion series held its first discussion on Feb. 18 and focused on the theme of “Being Black in the Ivory Tower.”

Chico State is a predominately white campus with African Americans only making up about 2 percent of the students, faculty and staff on campus.

Four different staff and faculty members with doctorates fielded questions from the discussion’s facilitator, English professor Tracy Butts, and the audience. The first topic highlighted was the panel members’ journeys to get their Ph.D.s.

All four kept the conversation light and joked about how long it took, all the school transfers that were required and what surprised them most about the lengthy process.

The second question dove right into the challenges they feel they have faced and are still facing being a minority.

Pedro Douglas, vice president for Student Affairs, discussed how his ideas were different from his co-workers because of the way he was raised. He felt that if he wanted something to change in the workplace, he would have to almost make it seem like it was someone else’s idea rather than his own, he said.

Juni Banerjee-Stevens, a counselor with the Counseling and Wellness Center, talked about her time at a previous school and how she felt she was hired centrally for her diversity and that she could relate to students of different backgrounds.

Originally from Zimbabwe, journalism professor Prisca Ngondo didn’t really have a sense of being outside the majority until coming to America, she said.

“I became aware of my blackness when I moved to the states,” Ngondo said. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a thing.’”

She didn’t think being black was a challenge for her, but rather believed her bigger challenge was being female, she said.

However, in November, Ngondo was the victim of a hate crime. One morning upon arriving to work, she discovered a swastika had been carved into her office door.

“Yes, I was shocked,” Ngondo said. “But I prepared myself for it. It was just a matter of when.”

After some more discussion, it was the audience’s turn to start asking questions. One audience member asked why the administration doesn’t start recruiting minority students.

If Chico State were to recruit, there would need to be some steps taken first, Douglas said. Chico State needs to be a place where people will want to come. Once they are here, there needs to be people available to help them feel comfortable.

“Having a diverse school benefits everyone,” Douglas said. “Not just the black students.”

The spring 2015 Conversations on Diversity and Inclusion series will host four more discussions this semester on Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m. These meetings are open to anyone.

Brittany McClintock can be reached at [email protected] or @b_mcclintock17 on Twitter.