By Jada Fisher, Staff Writer
Perspectives on ethnic diversity in the Associated Student Council
Olivet students and faculty might all agree that campus leadership and all its facets are highly valued. The fall semester begins with traditions like the leadership retreat, elections for freshman class council and festival of ministries. The spring semester ends with resident assistant interviews and selections and class council elections. Possibly hundreds of undergraduate students have leadership roles.
Olivet students and faculty might also agree that diversity is valued. Undergrad minority students have increased tremendously. It shows in the faces of the students, on the pages of the GlimmerGlass and Aurora and in the numbers recorded by the administration. Leadership and diversity. At Olivet, all leadership opportunities are open to all students.
But how many minority students do you think have leadership positions?
Leadership positions throughout campus are plenty and can be found in areas like the Associated Student Council, housing, athletics, music, honor societies and beyond. The ASC is the largest umbrella for student leadership. It has many layers of positions, said former vice president for student relations, Candace Baird.
The first layer is the executive council which includes the Student Body President and all Vice Presidents of areas like Women’s Residential Life, Social Life and Finance. All students in these positions are selected by the ASC advisory committee which includes, chairman of communications Dr. Jay Martinson, vice president of student development Dr. Walter “Woody” Webb and dean of community life Kathy Steinacker.
According to the clubs and organizations page on the university website, the executive council “plans events, organizes ministries and clubs, and strives to address campus issues by working with the administration on the behalf of the student body.”
The second layer includes the class council, which consists of a president, chaplain and five representatives for each class. Students of each class vote for the students that get these positions. The class council functions to “develop leaders among the classes, encourage campus improvement, and provide opportunities to build community,” according to the university website. Both the executive and class councils make up the voting council, which could be considered another layer.
The final layer includes the presidents of ASC clubs and organizations like Enactus, Nursing Student Association and Multi-.ethnic Relations club (MERC).
“Diversity of race [in the ASC] has been less,” said Martinson. Olivet’s student body is predominantly Caucasian. One could infer that ASC student leadership reflects the student body diversity; or lack thereof. According to the 2013 student body diversity from the university website, there were about 1, 010 minority students out of the total of 4,600.Which means that about a fourth of the student body were minorities, that year. “Minority students in ASC positions are a reflection of the proportion of the student population,” said Staff therapist and multicultural coordinator, Cynthia Taylor.
However, it is unknown whether the numbers are for undergraduate and graduate students combined.
In the ASC, the estimated largest number of minority students over the last five years, out of a total of 25 students was six in the 2009-2010 school year. For three consecutive years in 2012, 2013 and 2014 there were five minority students, as shown in the diagram. The lowest number was two in 2010. Another observation is that over the past five years is that six of the total 16 minority students held positions for 2 or more years. It’s typical for an ASC student leader to continue in the council, sometimes in different positions throughout their time at Olivet, said Baird. This is also true for her. Baird was a class representative for two years and VP for Student Relations during her junior and senior year.
Similarly, Grace Amponsah was a class representative for three years. Her parents are from Ghana, but she was born in the U.S. Her time in the ASC is definitely a highlight of her college career, she loved it, she said. Currently, she is the president of MERC which promotes diversity awareness and unity.
“Ethnic diversity among our student government leaders (ASC) is certainly preferred,” said Webb.
Martinson would say the same thing. “It helps to have a variety of perspectives,” he said.
But a couple reasons why the ASC hasn’t been ethnically diverse would be the limited amount of minority students that sign up, the person of ethnic diversity may not have the needed skills or portfolio for the position or the student may be too young for the position, said Martinson.
The lack of minority involvement in student leadership doesn’t give an accurate perception or perspective on issues, events and student life, said Taylor. But some students – specifically minorities – feel otherwise.
Though Amponsah enjoyed being in the ASC, being the only African-American in her class council was apparent and that sometimes affected her leadership. “[It was] hard to get your voice heard on a council that is focused on what the majority would like, not the minority,” she explained. As previously mentioned the ASC plans some of Olivet’s most popular events and has influence over student life.
Amponsah’s perspective on underrepresentation in the ASC is somewhat similar to those expressed in the article: “Minority students share feelings and concerns” from a 1995 issue of the Glimmer Glass. “My perceptions coming to Olivet as an outsider were that we are very ‘white,’ there is often a danger of seeing the world through ‘white’ eyes,” said then, Chaplain Bill Bray. Some may agree or disagree of the validity of Bray’s statement today.
MERC and Mu Kappa are ASC clubs that promote and celebrate ethnic diversity in the student body, and provide opportunities for leadership development. A non- ASC group that is largely diverse in members and leadership is the Proclamation Gospel choir, directed by Jasper Taylor.
But concerning diversity in the ASC and campus wide, some feel it could further improve. “[A lack of diversity] negatively affects the culture of ONU. I believe that it prevents ONU from fulfilling its full potential,” said Jasper Taylor. Junior class president, Samuel Kwak believes the ASC should have a diverse atmosphere.
Implementing a group or club to help minority students that want ASC positions and develop their portfolios would be beneficial, said Martinson. Evans made a similar suggestion.
From administrators like Webb, to faculty like Martinson and Taylor, and students like Kwak and Evans, there isn’t a question of the value of ethnic diversity. But perhaps a continued dialogue and attention to the progression and state of ethnic diversity in student leadership.