By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
There has been a push for diversity to bolster Highline Community College’s (HCC) academic environment, claim students and faculty, citing the institution’s members of color, consideration for ethnicity in hiring new faculty and staff, as well as what some claim to be an openness that fosters different backgrounds.
Located in Des Moines, HCC is the most diverse community college in Washington state. According to the college’s website, 19 percent of the student body is Asian, 12 percent Latino, and 14 percent Black. This accounts for nearly half the student body.
Nineteen percent of the college’s students have identified themselves as multiracial.
Olga Afichuk is a second-year student at HCC. She is also the student body vice president in the Associated Students of HCC. She says diversity is alive and well at the school.
“I have never experienced any biased behavior toward or from a faculty member, nor have I experienced anything of that sort with the administration at HCC,” she said. “I have personally met many of our administration and have seen them treat others only with respect, taking the time to listen and always value other people and their opinions.”
Afichuk recently surveyed students on what they thought about the diversity at HCC. Results generally showed positive outlooks on student life and openness to students’ diverse backgrounds.
“Highline has opened my eyes to different viewpoints and cultures that I don’t think I could get from any other community college in Washington,” Amina Mohamed said in the survey. “We are a unique student body and it’s refreshing to attend a college that not only recognizes this as a strength, but celebrates our diversity.”
The college’s International Students Program is another highlight. Of approximately 10,000 students, 556 come from another country. A number of students are from Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, among other countries.
To help international students adjust to life in the United States, the school funds The Conversation Pal Program, in which students, staff, and faculty at HCC are matched into groups and talk about their culture. These cross-cultural conversations aim to bring students of different backgrounds together.
“From Americans of all colors, to immigrants, to international students from every corner of the globe — I have met many people from countries and places I had never known someone from before,” said Thomas Tobin, a student, in the diversity survey.
HCC faculty say the college’s openness to diversity extend to them as well.
The HCC mission statement emphasizes diversity in faculty and staff to serve as “role models and mentors that reflect the diversity” of the student body as well as to “promote a sense that individual differences/experiences and perspectives are respected and valued.”
Between 2005 and 2007, HCC records show that of the 135 staff, 32 are people of color. The percentage of tenured faculty that is of color ranges from 13 percent to 40 percent.
“A diverse and multicultural faculty and staff are necessary in order for us to do this important work,” said Lisa Skari, vice president of Institutional Advancement at HCC. “They lead by example and contribute to the richness of the education experience at HCC. Diversity encourages critical thinking and creates a dynamic intellectual and social environment, the very context required for success in today’s world.”
Tommy Kim is a professor of film studies at HCC.
“This is the third campus I’ve taught on,” he said. “I’ve never experienced such a strong push and respect for diversity on any other campus. Here, there is a celebration of diversity whereas on other campuses, there is simply recognition of diversity.”
A former HCC president started the HCC Faculty and Staff of Color Recruitment and Retention Council. The council serves as an affirmative action body. It reviews and revises hiring policies to take diversity into consideration when the college is on the lookout for new faculty and staff.
While strong, economics professor Sam Le said there needs to be a greater focus on an Asian American presence at HCC.
“There are a large number of students here who are African American. But along with that, other minority groups have not been pushed very hard,” Le said, adding that more Asian studies classes would improve this dynamic.
Kim said that as a community college, HCC should always be working toward improving diversity.
“If we live in a society in which there is a compelling reason that we have to keep recognizing diversity on a broader cultural level — as long as that exists in society … there’s always more we can do,” Kim said. “Community is who we are.
It’s not just doing things to make the campus better, but it’s things that make our campus better and by extension, making the community better. We should always be doing more.” ♦
Vivian Luu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.