Our campus’s cultural diversity provides an environment in which appreciation for diversity of perspectives can create a healthy community where everyone feels respected and valued.
By Marcia Sakai.
October is Global Diversity Awareness Month and the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has much to celebrate. Our campus prides itself on being an inclusive community, nurturing and supporting a global mix of ethnicities and cultures. In August, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2018 Almanac ranked UH Hilo as the most diverse four-year public university in the nation! Three other UH campuses also ranked in the top 10.
Our campus’s cultural diversity provides an environment in which appreciation for diversity of perspectives can create a healthy community where everyone feels respected and valued. This is enriching for everyone on campus. But it’s even more than that.
Having local, mainland, Pacific region and other international students all living and learning together gives everyone real experience in the development of global understanding. Students leave our campus and community with a strong sense of the value of diversity in education, commerce, health and welfare—our graduates are already global citizens before graduation, with an understanding that valuing diversity raises the quality of life for everyone.
Let me share something about our people and programs working in support of diversity at UH Hilo.
First, we embrace our responsibility to serve the indigenous people of Hawai‘i and to support Hawai‘i’s indigenous language and culture. Hawai‘i’s people, history, cultures, and natural environment permeate all that we do in teaching, conducting research, and doing outreach to the community.
In addition to our Hawaiian language and cultural revitalization programs, cultural practitioners are part of many programs in the natural sciences, pharmaceutical and health sciences, humanities, and sustainability. Cultural practitioners at our Uluākea program teach faculty in various academic disciplines an authentic and practical understanding of indigenous ways of knowing the world.
It is from this strong place-based foundation that our campus embraces the world, its peoples and its cultures.
In academics, Professor of Sociology Marina Karides is developing a new track of study focusing on island and indigenous sociology. The curriculum includes courses on indigenous health and well-being, island feminism, and the political economy of Hawai‘i. Students’ theses will be based in indigenous research protocols, and internships will be required with organizations that serve Native Hawaiian and/or indigenous communities.
Through the Study Abroad program, headed by Director of Global Exchange Carolina Lam, our local students have many opportunities to study in another country, giving them real world experience of other cultures and people. Students who study abroad gain valuable skills and expertise for an increasingly internationalized and interdependent world.
On campus, UH Hilo hosts incoming exchange students from different nations and cultures each semester in a program headed by Director of Global Exchange Tom Shumway. Almost 100 new international exchange and other international students have joined us this fall—of those about 30 are exchange students with us for one or two semesters and the others degree seeking. About 250 total international students are on campus. Along with international films and speakers, these students present opportunities for an enriched understanding of diverse viewpoints and experiences that benefit our classrooms, our campus, and the greater Hilo community.
At our Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Director Jennifer Stotter is looking at diversity on campus from the perspective of equity. In addition to ensuring that UH Hilo is following all laws and policies pertaining to equal opportunity, the EEO/AA office also develops training programs and workshops on sexual harassment and discrimination to ensure all on our campus are supported and treated fairly.
At our Division of Student Affairs, Vice Chancellor Farrah-Marie Gomes is looking at developing a Center for Diversity and Multiculturalism to bring together all the programs that currently support diversity, including the Center for Global Education and Exchange, the Minority Access and Achievement Program, the Student Support Services Program, the Womenʻs Center, the LGBTQ+ Center, Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, and others. The centralization will allow for even more coordination and collaboration between people and programs in support of our diverse campus community.
We look forward to doing more, because this is the type of support that expands our students’ views about people, their diverse communities and the world as they become global citizens and move on to become the leaders of the future.
UH Hilo will be celebrating Global Diversity Awareness Month on campus with a Diversity Fair on Oct. 24. There will be student presentations, artwork, music, food, and performance art, all celebrating diversity. The different programs mentioned in this column will also have displays and information booths. An awards ceremony will cap the event recognizing the best student presentations. All are welcome, the event is free and open to the public. I hope you’ll join us.