Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Diversity awareness remains a focus at Cuyamaca College

Diversity awareness continues to be a goal at Cuyamaca College, where Black History Month includes a forum on African-American women leaders, and the return of the semester-long workshop series, Diversity Dialogues.

Marsha Gable, dean of counseling services at Cuyamaca, will present “Our Roots are Deep: Living Life from the Core,” a Tuesday, Feb. 11, symposium exploring black women leaders’ paths to career and personal success.

“Driven by the values of relationships, family, spirituality and equality, African-American women are poised to succeed and enjoy life from the core,” Gable states in a publicity flier for the workshop set for 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in room I-207 in the student center.

Also a part of Black History Month, a display marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is set up on the first and second floors of the campus library. Cuyamaca’s observance of  African-American history continues with a lively step-show performance Tuesday, Feb. 25,  by the San Diego State University chapter of the predominantly black Phi  Beta Sigma fraternity.  The 2 p.m. dance performance will be at the student center quad.

Issues of diversity

On Feb. 19, the focus turns to gay rights with the kickoff of the semester’s Diversity Dialogues focusing on a variety of diversity awareness and social justice topics. “Out of the Closet, Into Power” is a nationally known activist’s narrative on being homosexual and the nearly 20 years she has spent on the battlefront of same-sex equality.

Clinical psychologist Davina Kotulski, a pioneer of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights, is a recognized leader in the marriage equality movement dating back to her efforts to pass a pro-marriage equality initiative with Californians for Same Sex Marriage in 1999 and in her work to defeat Prop 22 enacted in March 2000 to ban gay marriages. She is also a public speaker, life coach and author of “Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage” and "Love Warriors: The Rise of the Marriage Equality Movement and Why it Will Prevail."  The 12:30-1:30 p.m. seminar in the student center is the first of seven scheduled this spring. All of the free workshops are open to the public and will be held in Room I-207 in the student center.

Lauren Vaknin, the college’s associate dean of Student Affairs, developed Diversity Dialogues in spring 2011, initially offering three workshops that drew a total of about 50 students. Since then, the number of the workshops has expanded, as has attendance, with about 250 people – mostly students -- attending the interactive workshops last year.

 “The Diversity Dialogue program reflects Cuyamaca College’s commitment to respecting and recognizing the needs and challenges of our diverse campus population,” said Mark Zacovic, president of the approximately 9,000-student college in Rancho San Diego. “These seminars have also promoted our appreciation for the richness of the multicultural fabric that makes this campus so special.”

Students who attend at least three of the fall and spring semester workshops earn a Diversity and Leadership certificate and will be recognized at a student leaders’ reception in May. Certificate earners transferring to San Diego State University earn credit toward the SDSU Multicultural Competency Certificate offered through the university’s Cross-Cultural Center.

Vaknin recruits the presenters, who this semester include mostly academicians from SDSU and the University of San Diego. She also solicits input from student government leaders and fellow members of Cuyamaca’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, a group that meets monthly with the goal of fostering cultural competence, equity and respect for all employees and students.

To provide students an opportunity to further delve into diversity issues, the college plans to bring back the Cultural Competency Institute, a series of additional workshops beginning in March that were created by Tanis Starck, director of SDSU’s Cross-Cultural Center. The workshops introduced last fall drew a small but enthusiastic core group of students, who pressed for the institute to be brought back this spring.

In an evaluation survey, students gave the institute high marks for increasing cultural awareness and for teaching them how to apply cultural competency principles to personal, professional and academic life. Most importantly, the students said, the Cultural Competency Institute taught them to be more open-minded and empathetic to the challenges encountered by people of diversity.

SDSU’s Stark, who created the first Cultural Competency Certificate Program in the California State University system, said she is always buoyed by students’ support of the program.

“It links the diversity of the student population, creating an experiential shift in values, attitude and behaviors that will result in a fully engaged workforce,” said Starck, a doctoral graduate of Howard University and a certified psychologist. “Being culturally competent means having the ability to recognize and respond to the diversity of the world around you and to make better decisions based on that understanding. Ultimately, becoming culturally competent is more than recognizing and understanding biases; it is about being able to harness different perspectives that are useful in the workplace and the marketplace”