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Advising diversity a work in progress

By Abigail Panitz     4/13/16 9:37am

What makes a good O-Week? College coordinators have struggled to tackle this question since they were appointed to the position last semester. With a variety of factors and concerns, diversity has emerged as a topic of discussion.

Attention has circulated in the past few weeks as the advisor and coadvisor selection process has progressed. Several students submitted opinion pieces to the Thresher, starting with a piece by former Brown College coordinator James Carter entitled, “Students of color should apply to advise.” Soon after, three students jointly wrote an opinion piece, “Value marginalized voices in our colleges,” discussing inclusivity during O-Week and beyond.

Associate Dean of Undergraduates and Director of Multicultural Affairs Catherine Clack voiced her hopes for increased diversity within the applicant pool.

“I think both the applicant pool and the teams are very weak on diversity,” Clack said. “I don’t think diversity has been a high enough priority in the past. I do believe the colleges are likely doing the best they can with limited applicants, but I don’t think they are pushing to diversify the applicant pool hard enough.”

Clack said that the issue of diversity is manifold and that reforms for the O-Week Diversity Facilitator program could help address the issue.

“It’s not unusual for the colleges to reflect a sort of ‘token’ diversity,” Clack said. “We are looking at playing a larger role in ensuring that students of color can find and reach out to each other during the week.”

Assistant Director of First Year Programs Chris Landry discussed campus-wide reform for diversity in O-Week.

“This includes in-depth discussions, trainings and activities about the importance of selecting an inclusive team, [and] creating events and programs that are effective for all new students,” Landry said.

One Duncan College coordinator emphasized the importance diversity in traits other than race.

“Diversity includes any aspect of an individual that separates their identity from another person.” Duncan sophomore Bradley Hamilton said. “This means diversity includes majors, socioeconomic background, hometowns and states, experiences within different neighborhoods and many other things.”

Jones O-Week coordinator Jessica Ha offered a similar response when discussing the application process.

“We looked at majors, interests, clubs, Rice [and] residential college participation, living location at Jones (Jones is big on floor culture), race and personality,” Ha, a sophomore, said.

Landry said he encouraged more discussion of what diversity entails, and pointed to Carter’s recent op-ed as having raised concerns over the need for O-Week advisors and affiliates that reflected the diversity of the incoming class.

“This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with students and administrator including Masters that must be broadened beyond O-Week,” Landry said. “How does diversity look in the colleges and across academic units? How does this translate for new students each year particularly those who are underrepresented for some area of difference?”

Campus-wide coordinator Seth Berggren said his team has a universal goal of promoting diversity.

“Our goal is to create an O-Week that allows the new students to feel like there’s a place for them at Rice, no matter their background,” Berggren, a McMurtry College junior, said.

Hamilton said that each candidate’s aspects of diversity are discussed after interviews in Duncan’s advising application process.

“After going through all of the interviews, we then make a note card of each student containing a variety of different aspects of their diversity,” Hamilton said. “We then look towards building a team based off of the application, interview and these notecards.”

The McMurtry coordinators expressed a desire to find advisors who represent a diverse group of individuals.

“What made someone an excellent advising candidate was that they had the ability to represent the incredibly diverse campus,” the McMurtry coordinating team said. “We looked to represent every single type of person in every way that makes them unique.”

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