Kim on diversity: ‘What we’re doing here is probably impossible at other institutions’

By Alexandra Yetter, Staff Reporter

Before coming to Columbia six years ago, President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim said he did not think having a diverse and inclusive higher education learning environment was possible. But with the 2016 advent of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office, Columbia has made the impossible seem possible, Kim said.

Patrick Reponse
President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim stressed the importance of diversity and inclusion in higher education for incoming students and their families.

“This is a school that is actually asking these tough [race-related] questions,” Kim said during a March 14 DEI forum held at Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash Ave. “We are trying to progress to be anti-racist. Families get excited about that. They’re hungry to hear there is some place that has the courage to actually try to get this right.”

DEI has a number of initiatives to implement diversity at the college, as outlined by DEI Co-Directors Raquel Monroe and Fo Wilson at the first DEI public forum. One such initiative is the college’s Undoing Racism workshops, which Monroe said about 70 percent of the faculty and staff have completed.

Monroe said continuing to bring in a diverse student and faculty population is a top priority. For the Spring 2019 semester, 47 percent of students identified themselves as other than white, 16 percent as first-generation immigrants, 5 percent identify as multiracial, 58 percent as women, 42 percent as men and 41 percent identify as other than heterosexual, according to statistics provided during the forum.

“Our students understand this is a safe place to become educated and to learn to practice their craft,” Monroe said. “We should be really proud of these numbers.”

Faculty demographics, however,  do not reflect the student body’s diversity; 78 percent of female faculty are white while 22 percent are non-white and 82 percent of the male faculty are white while 18 percent are non-white.

One of the ways DEI plans to increase diversity among faculty and staff is by hiring candidates who are diverse and produce diverse work. The school is currently looking to fill an assistant professor and chair position in the Theatre Department; an assistant professor and chair position in the Cinema and Television Arts Department; and two assistant professor positions in the Interactive Arts and
Media Department.

Distinguishing Columbia from other colleges, DEI plans to implement diversity learning outcomes in the core curriculum by requiring six DEI credits beginning in the 2019–2020 academic year. Professors will be able to have their existing courses DEI-designated through an application process, Monroe said.

A new DEI Committee structure will also be enacted. It will be split between an executive committee and an advisory committee. The executive committee will be comprised of one administrator, two full-time faculty members, two part-time faculty members and two staff members with a focus on assisting with DEI initiatives. The advisory committee will be comprised of full-time faculty, part-time faculty and staff, as well as students and administrators, to develop DEI initiatives.

“The work has to be done by all of us for it to be effective,” Wilson said. “We all have to pitch in and roll up our sleeves.”